TikTok repels claims of anti-Israel bias, finds similar situation on Facebook

After renewed calls to ban TikTok in the US for pushing young people to support the Palestinian cause, the 1 billion wide social media platform has released further information on its policies. Its comparison with a rival suggests that the situation is similar on Facebook. TikTok says it removes 100% of antisemitic or Holocaust denial content reported by Fighting Online Antisemitism.

The popular short-form video app TikTok shared some more statistics and information to defend itself from recent criticism and calls to ban the platform for its supposed stance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Powerful US politicians recently blamed TikTok for its content moderation policies. Senator Marco Rubio released a press release claiming “China’s TikTok Pushes Pro-Hamas Propaganda.”

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) said in an open letter that the parent company ByteDance threatens American national security, urging to review and ban all its controlled apps currently available to US users. According to the New York Times, Republican lawmakers are again calling to ban TikTok amid accusations that it is amplifying pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel videos through its powerful algorithmic feed.

TikTok responded on Monday with a second announcement, claiming that its algorithm doesn’t “take sides” and has rigorous measures to prevent manipulation. The company says it responds rapidly and robustly to the war in the Middle East.

“Blunt comparisons of hashtags are severely flawed and misrepresentative of the activity on TikTok,” the post reads.

TikTok asserts that millions of people in regions such as the Middle East and South East Asia account for a significant proportion of views on hashtags. Therefore, there’s more content with #freepalestine and #standwithpalestine and overall views. And hashtags alone don’t tell the whole story.

“For example, the hashtag #standwithIsrael may be associated with fewer videos than #freePalestine, but it has 68% more views per video in the US, which means more people are seeing the content. And, some hashtags are newer (e.g. #standwithIsrael) while others are more established (e.g. #freePalestine) – the vast majority (9 in 10) of videos tagged #standwithIsrael were posted in the last 30 days in the US. A difference in views and posts is expected,” the company said.

In addition to proactive efforts to remove hate speech, TikTok claims it removed 100% of antisemitic or Holocaust denial content Fighting Online Antisemitism reported through Community Partner Channel last year.

“Nine times out of ten, TikTok removes hate speech before it's reported.”

TikTok also provided a comparison of overall post counts, showing that other platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, also have much more content for #FreePalestine than #standwithIsrael.

However, the ratio between the post-count for #freepalestine and #standwithisrael is around 77 to 1 on TikTok, and correspondingly, it is 27 to 1 on Instagram and 40 to 1 on Facebook, the provided comparison shows.

Hashtags on social media

Ready for “unprecedented amount of third-party” access to systems

The platform operator also explains that recommendations on TikTok are based on the content people have previously engaged with, claiming that it does not “promote” any side. Signals for the recommendation algorithm are views, likes, and shares. TikTok also offers a “not interested” feature and a way to refresh the content feed.

“In the US, we have given our third-party Trusted Technology Provider access to TikTok source code to understand if the system is acting as TikTok intends. We are on a path to allowing an unprecedented amount of third-party access to verify our source code and systems, something no other peer company has done,” Tiktok said.

According to the announcement, TikTok removed more than 925,000 videos in the conflict region for violating its policies around violence, hate speech, misinformation, and terrorism, including content promoting Hamas, between October 7th and October 31st, 2023.

“We enforce our rules against hateful behavior by using advanced systems, from computer vision models that detect visual signals such as emblems and logos, to text-based technologies, such as natural language processing, to detect the language used to promote extremist ideologies or hate groups,” the company explains.

TikTok added in-app interventions to remind that changing events may not always be accurate and provide them with easy access to authoritative information from outlets like Reuters and AFP FactCheck.

TikTok says young people support Palestine more than Israel

The last argument of TikTok is that it’s less about algorithms and more about people.

“Attitudes among young people skewed toward Palestine long before TikTok existed,” the company said.

TikTok provided Gallup polling data, showing that Millenials’ support for the Palestinians has been shifting for more than a decade.

Statistics shared by TikTok

TikTok noticed that support for Israel among younger Americans declined steadily over the past ten years, and data “confirms that historically, net sympathy for Israelis is the lowest among the youngest generations.” Gallup research from March 2023 revealed for the first time that Millenials had more net sympathy toward the Palestinians than for Israelis.

Still, the US TikTok users under 40 “are more likely to support Israel (33% vs 28% for Palestine), and the proportions broadly reflect the split in the general under 40 population (32% for Israel, 23% for Palestine), an Echelon poll from October 26, 2023 shows.

This is the second time that TikTok has released a rebuff to allegations. In its initial post, TikTok compared that hashtag #standwithisrael has gained 1.5x more views than #standwithpalestine: 46.3M views compared to 29.4M views. The company assured it worked tirelessly “to keep people safe during these unprecedented times,” encouraging them to look carefully at the data before leaping to faulty conclusions.

In the wake of Hamas's attack on Israel, misinformation, propaganda, and graphic footage of the abductions and military operations spread like wildfire on social media.

EU’s Industry commissioner stepped in, giving TikTok 24 hours to detail measures it would take to counter the spread of disinformation, and similar notices were sent to Facebook and X.

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