TikTok Denies Bias in Israel-Hamas Conflict
November 18, 2023
TikTok, the popular video-sharing platform, is at the center of a controversy involving alleged bias in the Israel-Hamas conflict. American politicians have renewed efforts to ban the app, accusing it of favoring pro-Palestinian content over pro-Israeli content. However, TikTok has rejected these accusations, stating that its recommendation algorithm remains neutral and asserting that strict measures are in place to prevent content manipulation.
Accusations of Bias and Censorship
Some American politicians have blamed TikTok for garnering support from young voters sympathetic to Palestinians, suggesting that the platform promotes pro-Palestinian content at the expense of pro-Israeli content. Senator Josh Hawley penned an open letter claiming that the influx of critical content towards Israel could “propagandize Americans.” Some creators expressing support for either side of the conflict have reported censorship.
In an open letter signed by various TikTok creators of Jewish origin, TikTok is accused of inadequately moderating anti-Semitic content and not promoting posts by Jewish creators about Israel. Meanwhile, many pro-Palestinian creators have encouraged their followers to use coded words and symbols to avoid content suppression.
TikTok’s Response to Accusations
TikTok responded to bias accusations by posting on its blog, stating that direct hashtag comparisons are misleading and not representative of TikTok’s activity. The company emphasized that its recommendation algorithm remains impartial and has implemented rigorous measures to prevent content manipulation. Additionally, TikTok highlighted that users from regions like the Middle East and Southeast Asia significantly contribute to the views of pro-Palestinian hashtags.
The company also pointed out that the volume of content related to Palestine and Israel is similar on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. To ensure its algorithm functions as intended, TikTok has granted unprecedented access to third parties for external audits.
National Security Concerns
Recent bias allegations against TikTok add to national security concerns related to its Chinese ownership. Some American politicians have called for a ban, claiming that the app could be used for espionage by the Chinese government. However, TikTok has denied these accusations and taken measures to secure user data, such as establishing a dedicated command center and hiring moderators fluent in Arabic and Hebrew.
Pro-Palestinian Support Among Young Americans
Many American politicians have expressed concern about the support of young Americans for Palestinians. According to Senator Marco Rubio, young Americans are “surprisingly pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas,” blaming TikTok for the dissemination of anti-colonial information. Nevertheless, TikTok emphasized that young Americans sympathized with Palestine long before the app’s existence.
Gallup polls show that Democratic millennials increasingly sympathize with Palestinians, while older generations tend to lean more towards Israel. Additionally, Gallup has observed a decrease in Americans’ favorability towards Israel since 2020, irrespective of political affiliation.