Alarmed by an apparent surge of antisemitic content and misinformation on TikTok following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist massacre of Israeli civilians, a group of Jewish celebrities and influencers met this week with execs of the video app to voice their concerns.
More than 30 people joined the 90-minute video call, including actors Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Schumer and Debra Messing, at the invitation of TikTok. Variety has confirmed details of the Nov. 15 meeting, first reported by the New York Times.
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Overall, the tenor of the meeting was respectful and productive, according to an individual familiar with the call. But at times, the discussion became very heated.
“What is happening at TikTok is, it is creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis. Shame on you,” Cohen told the execs, according to audio of the meeting. He also said, “If you think back to Oct. 7, the reason why Hamas were able to behead young people and rape women was they were fed images from when they were small kids that led them to hate.”
Messing questioned why TikTok isn’t blocking the phrase “from the river to the sea” — which many interpret as a dog whistle calling for the extermination of Israel — from the app. “It is much more responsible to bar it at this juncture than to say, ‘Oh, well, some people, they use it in a different way than it actually was created to mean,'” Messing said. “I understand that you are in a very, very difficult and complicated place, but you also are the main platform for the dissemination of Jew hate.”
On the call, TikTok head of operations Adam Presser acknowledged to the participants, “We can do better.” He also said, “To hear that this place, this platform, this community that has brought you so much joy and helps each of you as individuals is becoming a place that feels like somewhere that you’re not sure you want to spend time on… that’s devastating.”
Reps for TikTok, which is owned by Chinese internet conglomerate ByteDance, did not respond to a request for comment about the call.
The meeting came after a group of 43 Jewish celebs and influencers — including Schumer and Messing — posted an open letter to TikTok on the issues earlier this month. “Dear TikTok, Your platform is not safe for Jewish users,” it reads. “Simply put, TikTok lacks critical safety features to protect Jewish content creators and the broader Jewish TikTok community, leaving us in digital and physical danger. The company and your thousands of employees in public policy, creator partnerships, product development, and content moderation — who are supposed to protect users, are not doing enough.”
Meanwhile, TikTok has come under fire after videos promoting Osama bin Laden’s 2002 “Letter to America,” a screed about the terrorist attacks he orchestrated against the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, were viewed millions of times on the platform. In response, TikTok said it blocked the hashtag “#LettertoAmerica” and was “aggressively removing” videos about bin Laden’s letter, while also claiming the number of videos was “small” and that “reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate.” TikTok also said content about bin Laden’s letter has appeared “across multiple platforms and the media.”
Earlier this week, TikTok wrote in a blog post that it is “rapidly and robustly responding to the Israel-Hamas war” and said, “In light of misinformation and mischaracterization about how the TikTok platform actually operates, it’s important for everyone to have the facts.”
According to TikTok, the number of videos associated with a hashtag alone “do not provide sufficient context.” For example, it said, the hashtag #standwithIsrael may be associated with fewer videos than #freePalestine but that the former has 68% more views per video in the U.S. In addition, “The content people see on TikTok is generated by our community and recommendations are based on the content people have previously engaged with,” the company said in the blog post. “TikTok does not ‘promote’ one side of an issue over another.”
TikTok also has also stepped-up efforts to remove fake accounts and engagement. Since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas against Israel, TikTok has removed more than 24 million fake accounts globally and more than 500,000 “bot comments” on content under hashtags related to the conflict, according to the company.
In 2022, TikTok said, it removed 100% of antisemitic or Holocaust-denial content reported through its community partner channel. The company claims it removes approximately 90% of hate speech before it is reported.
“We recognize that when it comes to platform safety, there is always more to be done, and as we learn more, we do more,” TikTok said. “We welcome honest, open dialogue in all these areas, and we will continue engaging with our community, civil society, nonprofits and others to protect our community and remain a welcoming space for authentic self-expression.”
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