montage of native american woman at protests

Quiiro/Instagram

Indigenous TikTokers say they’ve been banned after speaking out against oil pipeline

TikTok has destroyed their reach at a critical time.

 

Elisa Shoenberger

Tech

Published Aug 4, 2021   Updated Aug 6, 2021, 8:34 am CDT

After live streaming police violently crashing a religious ceremony and Pipeline 3 protest at Red Lake Treaty Camp—where cops threw down a protestor and ripped their shirt—TikTok banned the account of the person who filmed it, @Quiiroi, a Two Spirit Indigenous educator.

The ban lasted for over a week.

“About halfway during the ceremony, I went to sit down and take a break, I hear screams [and] I come rushing with my camera, I immediately [turned] my live stream on. Police were there holding a line,” they told the Daily Dot.

Pipeline 3 is a pipeline expansion by oil company Enbridge that cuts across native land in the Midwest.

The livestream by Quiiroi showed police officers from local counties attacking and arresting protestors. That including five to six officers slamming Alex Golden Wolf, a Two Spirit Indigenous leader of the White Earth Nation, to the ground and tearing their shirt before arresting them. 

“They showed up with tear gas and rubber bullets and guns. We’re in camping gear. I was wearing this camisole and flip flops. And a bandana to keep the sun off the top of my head,” Quirroi said. “Why are [the police] in riot gear?”

Over 20 protestors were arrested in the police raid and taken to Pennington County, Minnesota jail.

But when Quiiroi tried to use their TikTok account later that day, they couldn’t post anything, learning they were banned until July 30. Then on July 30, Quiiroi was informed that their account was again banned for community guideline violations. They are not allowed to post until Aug. 6. However, without notice, Quiiroi’s main account was reinstated on Sunday.

After their release from jail, Alex Golden Wolf discovered that they were also banned from posting by TikTok as well. It is unknown if their account was also reinstated. A video posted on Quirrio’s side TikTok account about their ban on July 27 was also pulled down for community violations over “illegal activities and regulated goods.” The video has since been restored.

“My account was supposedly banned for multiple community guidelines violations,” Quiiroi said to the Daily Dot. But looking through their history, Quiiroi does not know where the multiple violations came from. Despite appeals to various official TikTok email accounts as well as calls with other TikTok creators, Quiiroi has received silence from the popular platform. 

A fellow TikTok creator reached out to the Daily Dot to bring attention to Quiiroi’s story.

Quiiroi moved to a side account, @quiibunnie, but that has 116,000 fewer followers, devastating their reach. 

Quiiroi and Golden Wolf were among the protestors at Red Lake Treaty Camp in Minnesota protesting against the expansion of Pipeline 3 from oil company Enbridge that would bring tar sand oil from Canada to Wisconsin. The pipeline is to replace the old Line 3. The State of Minnesota’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) noted “Line 3 has corroded and cracked, necessitating more than 950 excavations in the last 16 years … Line 3 has had 10 times as many anomalies per mile as any other pipeline in the Mainline corridor.” 

Protestors want the expansion to stop and for the oil company to clean up the abandoned pipeline and the spills it has caused. The original Pipeline 3 spilled 1.7 million gallons of crude oil onto the frozen Prairie River in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

The expansion of the pipeline will violate treaty rights of Anishinaabe people. The EIS report that greenlit the project acknowledged as much. “Based on the information on tribal resources and uses given in Chapter 9, any of the routes selected between North Dakota and Superior, Wisconsin, therefore, would have a disproportionate and adverse effect on tribal resources and tribal members, even if the route itself does not cross near residences.” 

The expansion will cross through 200 bodies of water including crossing the Mississippi River twice, Stop Line 3 reported. The group reported that the EIS also failed to account for the risks of an oil spill into Lake Superior. In a TikTok video, Quiiroi says on their side TikTok account, “It’s not if a pipeline spills, it’s when a pipeline spills.” 

@quiibunnie

Reply to @madeline_pendleton download this and share the message or make your own video everyone needs to scream about it

♬ original sound – Quiiroi is screaming

Protestors have reason to be worried about the impact of the new Pipeline 3 project. After all the assurances over the highly protested Keystone pipeline, it still “leaked about 383,000 gallons of crude oil in North Dakota, covering an estimated half-acre of wetland,” according to the New York Times. State regulators are already investigating a spill of drilling fluid into the Willow Lake in Aitkin County from the Pipeline 3 new expansion in early July. And this past week, a District Court Judge ordered a temporary restraining order against Hubbard County authorities from blocking access to the protest site.

Unfortunately, the protestors are still experiencing continued police harassment and violence as well as threats from the local community. Quiiroi says police from four counties were sent to deal with protestors on a recent night.  

The cost of losing access to their TikTok account was acute at this pivotal point. “This is a very long fight,” Quiiroi said. “This is a physical and spiritual battle. We need help. I’m blessed to have a platform. I was using it for good, and then TikTok took it away.” 

Quiiroi joined TikTok in Oct. 2020, but ever since they mentioned Pipeline 3 in their TikTok videos, they’ve experienced difficulties with getting posts up as well as shrinking views. Normally, their TikTok views range from 20,000 to 200,000. But when they mentioned in a friends-only post that they were thinking about joining the protestors at Red Lake Treaty Camp, they started seeing their views tank, dropping to 2,000-5,000, including on ones not related to the pipeline. They also had one video taken down twice.

Quiiroi also has been experiencing long waits before their videos go up. TikTok will report that their videos are under review, taking four or even eight hours to upload. TikTok provides little guidance as to the how and why videos are placed under review.

These actions by TikTok against Quiiroi and Alex Golden Wolf is part of a larger pattern of censorship against anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ, and generally marginalized communities, as previously reported by Daily Dot.

The anonymous TikTok user who brought this current story to Daily Dot said, “TikTok penalizes content from marginalized creators who are simply trying to educate people on issues facing their community and society as a whole while ignoring creators spreading racism, misinformation, and content meant to radicalize users.”

TikTok claims it is neutral but it either doesn’t play out that way, or it doesn’t seem to make room for any nuance. People are getting banned for showing police violence, trying to educate people about violence against their communities. Yet videos showing police in favorable lights tend to go unflagged, showing only one side of the story.

“Neutrality around violence is only possible if you assume violence is equally distributed. It’s not. That’s precisely what the protests are about,” Os Keyes, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering said.

But these experiences of Indigenous and other marginalized people are not just endemic to TikTok. Instagram censored Indigenous voices in May, blaming a “glitch” for erasing posts and stories about Missing Women, Girls, and Two Spirits Day. 

Earlier in July, Black TikTok creators went on strike over their work being stolen and uncredited. This came on top of Black creators accusing TikTok of suppressing Black Lives Matter content in 2020. TikTok issued an apology for its actions. 

Quiiroi believes it is a combination of both TikTok censorship and racist abusing the moderation system, saying they believed they had also been mass reported.

While TikTok has reinstated Quiiroi from posting from their main account, given the platform’s track record, it may happen again without warning. All while they’re trying to raise awareness of a pipeline cutting through their land.

“Right now the things that we are fighting for, are not just for the benefit of ourselves, they are for the benefit of not just this generation, the next generation, everyone. You can’t drink oil at all. You can’t eat a fish that’s been poisoned by that water,” Quiiroi said. “We need to start making an active effort to elevate the voices of the people who are making global change and not just individual change.”

In a statement to the Daily Dot, a TikTok spokesperson said that: “We’re deeply committed to fostering an inclusive environment and celebrating the rich and vibrant Native American and Indigenous communities that inspire and connect with millions of people on TikTok.”

It declined to comment on the record about the reasons for the bans.

This post has been updated with comment from TikTok.

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*First Published: Aug 4, 2021, 8:57 am CDT