Harassment and death threats of Jewish creators on TikTok have led more than a dozen high-profile creators, including Amy Schumer, to sign a joint letter calling on TikTok to be more proactive in fighting antisemitism.
“Your Jewish creators — who regularly enliven the For You page with videos of dancing, cooking, singing, and positivity of all kinds — are being bombarded with abhorrent inhumanity solely due to our ethno-religious identity,” the letter stated. “This hate and vitriol is not rare, spontaneous or unexpected. Sadly, rampant antisemitism is a common problem that TikTok has failed to address for far too long.”
The creators call on TikTok to treat the spread of false information surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict like it treated so-called misinformation about Covid-19. For these videos, the creators hope to see warnings to viewers that they may be seeing inaccurate information.
“Fallacious headlines and ‘explainers’ cannot be walked back once they misinform millions of viewers,” the letter states.
Right now, a disparity exists on the app between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian content, according to an Axios report. On the global from Oct. 16 to the end of that month, 210,000 posts included the hashtag #standwithPalestine, and only 17,000 posts included the hashtag #standwithIsrael.
While TikTok is used worldwide and is popular among many Muslim countries, the disparity still exists when looking at content created in the United States alone. Over the span of two weeks, pro-Palestine content outpaced pro-Israel content in the U.S. by more than two times.
TikTok says it removed more than 775,000 videos and ended 14,000 live streams “promoting violence, terrorism, hate speech, misinformation and other violations of its rules” since the brutal Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
However, some “news” accounts on TikTok omit information and use rhetoric that paints Israel in an unfavorable light. For instance, Under the Desk News is an account on TikTok that shares news of the day and has more than 3 million followers. On Oct. 7, the host of the show released a video talking about Hamas’ attack on Israel. While describing the history between Israel and Gaza, the host made no mention of the history of pogroms on the Jewish people, nor did he discuss Arab revolts of Jewish migrants into Palestine. Some quick research reveals the Arabs’ strong rejection of a Jewish state.
Instead, the host said the United Nations “decided to divide up this particular area of land into the state of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza strip and this was basically to divide Jewish folks from Arab folks” — essentially painting the picture to viewers that the state of Israel is an artificial creation by Western powers and not a birthright to the Jewish people who throughout history faced genocide and mass displacement.
In a follow-up video, the host said Hamas was composed of 20- to 25-year-old “boys,” claiming “this is not as sophisticated a terrorist cell as some others have been.”
However, the host’s characterization of Hamas is far from the truth, as the terrorist organization has access to rockets and drones as well as an investment portfolio of $500 million and a military budget of $350 million.
That’s just one example, but it’s troubling to see how the conflict is being presented on the app, especially since 26 percent of people under 30 get their news from TikTok, according to a Pew Research Poll. Meanwhile, a Harvard poll revealed that 48 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds sided with Hamas, and 51 percent believed Hamas was justified in killing 1,200 Israeli civilians.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, is shocked by the support he is seeing for Hamas.
“There are those who believe in sympathizing with this terrible organization,” Weinblatt said in an interview. “I have said to my congregation, what does that say about them? What does it say about those who align themselves with individuals who are so sadistic and so brutal and so cruel?”
Weinblatt has spearheaded a letter expressing the Jewish community’s solidarity with Israel, garnering the signatures of a thousand rabbis across the country.
“In a time of such a terrible crisis and barbaric sadistic actions, there are many of us who have been very disappointed with the lack of condemnation, or with the lack of understanding of the need for Israel to respond,” Weinblatt said.
TikTok has proved to be a risk to individual users’ welfare and mental well-being, and U.S. officials have repeatedly said the Chinese-owned app poses a risk to national security.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, all Republicans, have labeled Chinese-owned TikTok a hotbed for spreading antisemitism and pro-Hamas propaganda and reignited calls to ban the app.