TikTok, an app with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and popular with young Americans, has been shown to favor pro-Palestinian content, leading experts to question whether the platform has a built-in bias against Israel.
Weeks after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, posts on TikTok in support of Palestine are reportedly receiving significantly more engagement compared to those supporting Israel, which experts attribute to the algorithm the Chinese-owned app employs. The popular video app is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, which maintains significant ties to the CCP, and reportedly has substantial power over TikTok.
From Oct. 23-30, posts featuring #StandWithIsrael received 64 million views while posts featuring #StandWithPalestine received 285 million views, according to data reviewed by Axios. Moreover, TikTok’s data reveals that 87% of the people viewing posts featuring #StandWithPalestine are under 35 while only 66% of the people viewing posts featuring #StandWithIsrael are under 35.
“ByteDance … has developed the most successful social media algorithm ever,” technologist Geoffrey Cain told the DCNF. “Under Chinese law, the algorithm and the people who run it must report to the Chinese Communist Party. TikTok’s pro-Palestine content is far outperforming pro-Israel content because the algorithm has decided so.”
Over 60% of American adults under 30 years-old view Palestinian people favorably while 55% view Israeli people favorably, according to Pew Research Center in May.
“TikTok wields significant influence over young minds,” Jake Denton, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, told the DCNF. “The platform has quickly become the primary search browser and source of news for young Americans, and its algorithm, which is influenced by the CCP, controls what information users see about important world events like the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
Almost 75% of women aged 11-26 use TikTok as a search engine, and over 50% of them even prefer it over Google, according to a survey by Her Campus Media published in September. Furthermore, 16% of American teens use TikTok “almost constantly,” according to Pew Research Center in August 2022.
Moreover, Jewish TikTok creators allege their engagement has plummeted on posts about Israel, according to a letter they sent to the platform on Wednesday.
“TikTok’s curation preferences just shouldn’t matter here, but the fact is it does, and it’s important given the CCP’s control over the service,” Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer told the DCNF. “Frankly, it should signal to any lawmaker (Republican or Democrat) to ban it given TikTok’s ability to influence our population on key issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Republicans have also been increasing calls to ban TikTok as a result of its content during the Israel-Hamas War.
“It would not be surprising that the Chinese-owned TikTok is pushing pro-Hamas content,” Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn told the DCNF. “The CCP benefits by destabilizing the Middle East and pushing the United States to put more manpower back into the region. The United States needs to ban this app that steals and spies on American users.”
“Communist China is capable of using TikTok’s algorithm to manipulate and influence Americans,” Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told the DCNF. “We’ve seen TikTok used to downplay the Uyghur genocide, the status of Taiwan, and now Hamas terrorism. This is further proof that the app needs to be banned and treated for what it is: foreign propaganda.”
Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin also argued for a ban in an op-ed published in The Free Press on Wednesday.
“By tweaking the TikTok algorithm, the CCP can censor information and influence Americans of all ages on a variety of issues,” he wrote. “It can shape what facts they consider accurate, and what conclusions they draw from world events … Neither banning Huawei nor banning TikTok restricts the speech of Americans.”
China has not condemned Hamas, despite its Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel that slaughtered 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 people as hostages, according to NBC. Over half of Americans aged 18-24 believe the attack “can be justified by the grievance of Palestinians,” according to a Harvard/Harris poll.
“When a China-run platform like TikTok promotes anti-Israel propaganda, it’s clear our chief global rival is trying to undermine our relationship with one of our strongest allies by influencing our youth,” Internet Accountability Project founder and president Mike Davis told the DCNF. “China seeks to sow discord internally in America, and TikTok is their most effective tool.”
TikTok pointed the DCNF to its Thursday blog post refuting the claims that hashtag data indicates the platform has pro-Palestinian bias.
“Over the last few days, there has been unsound analysis of TikTok hashtag data around the conflict, causing some commentators to falsely insinuate TikTok is pushing pro-Palestine content over pro-Israel content to U.S. users,” it states. “That’s simply false. In fact, since Oct. 7 in the U.S., the hashtag #standwithisrael has gained 1.5x more views than #standwithpalestine: 46.3M views compared to 29.4M views.”
ByteDance did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
Jason Cohen on November 5, 2023