TikTok CEO challenged by tech leaders on pro-Palestine posts

App accused of breaching its own community principles as claims of harassment on the site have ballooned since October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel

The effort was made to push TikTok to uphold its commitment to 'prevent harm'. AP
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TikTok chief executive Shou Chew and other top executives met recently with 40 influential leaders, including many from the tech industry, who were pushing for more moderation of anti-Semitic content and questioning why pro-Palestine videos were so popular on the short-video app.

The meeting four weeks ago included TikTok executives Adam Presser, head of operations, and Michael Beckerman, head of public policy, according to Anthony Goldbloom, an investment partner at AIX Ventures, who was among the tech industry attendees.

Mr Goldbloom’s group was armed with data analysis of TikTok content and a letter signed by 90 professionals, including former Meta chief revenue Officer David Fischer, Tinder co-founder Sean Rad and Bonobos co-founder Andy Dunn.

The effort was made to push TikTok to uphold its commitment to “prevent harm”, Mr Goldbloom said.

Many of the letter signatories felt the app was in breach of its own community principles as claims of harassment on the site have ballooned since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. 

TikTok’s principles also call on it to “enable free expression”.

The Israel-Gaza war has unleashed a wave of hate crimes against Jews, Muslims and Arabs around the world.

The conflict has been magnified through social media platforms including TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, and Elon Musk’s X.

Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by the US and EU. TikTok has banned content supportive of violent and hateful organisations, according to its community guidelines.

Once known mostly as a place for lipsync videos and comedic skits, TikTok and the videos on its platform are now frequently caught up in global politics. The app has become wildly popular, especially among young people, and counts more than one billion users.

Its ubiquity, and Chinese ownership have made it a frequent target for politicians who have recently renewed calls to ban the app due to the amount of anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian content.

In the video meeting with Mr Chew earlier this month, the tech industry group walked TikTok’s team through data compiled from publicly available hashtag information from the app.

Based on their analysis, the group found 54 views on pro-Palestine hashtags for every view for #standwithIsrael. That compares with data from an October Harvard Caps Harris poll among 18-24 year olds that showed support for Israel and Palestine as near equal, according to the group.

TikTok has said counting the number of videos associated with a hashtag does not “provide sufficient context” on the leanings of the videos. The hashtag #standwithIsrael may appear on fewer videos than #freePalestine, but it has 68 per cent more views per video in the US, which means more people are seeing the content, the company said earlier this month. 

The company has also said, based on polling data, that attitudes among young people skewed towards Palestine long before TikTok existed.

After the meeting, TikTok released a statement saying analysis of the platform using hashtags is flawed, Mr Goldbloom said. 

TikTok has said that it has removed more than 1.1 million videos in the conflict region for breaking its content rules from October 7 to November 17. During the same period globally, TikTok removed 1.6 million videos including hate speech and hateful behaviour videos, which includes anti-Semitism.

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Updated: November 30, 2023, 10:26 PM