Modern technologies such as the internet and smartphones have empowered people around the globe. These tools, however, have become a trap for the Uighurs, China’s Muslim ethnic minority.

Anthropologist Darren Byler spent 24 months from 2011 to 2018 in northwest China interviewing hundreds of Uighurs in their local language. When he arrived, Uighurs were using the internet for cultural exchanges, social networking and learning more about their faith.

By his last visit, Chinese authorities were using face scans and other devices to track their daily activities. Reports suggest they eventually put over a million Uighurs in detention camps, where they are forced to give up their cultural heritage and confess to their “crimes.”

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Uighurs wait in line at a face scan checkpoint in Turpan, Xinjiang, in northwest China on April 11, 2018. Darren Byler

I researched Uighur society in China for 8 years and watched how technology opened new opportunities – then became a trap

Darren Byler, University of Washington

An anthropologist who interviewed Uighurs in China found different ways in which Chinese authorities used checkpoints, social media and smartphones to identify, categorize and control this group.

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