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Front Page Talking Points

FOR THE WEEK OF NOV. 27, 2023

Hate speech and other provocative content on TikTok bring new criticism of the video platform

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TikTok is responding to U.S. politicians and other public figures who say its popular social media platform promotes pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel content. Several Washington lawmakers have renewed calls to ban the app because they fear that China may influence which short videos are promoted. (TikTok is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance.) In one reaction to critics, executives deleted a recent viral video of a teen reading a 2002 letter by terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who expressed hatred of Jewish people, anger about Israeli treatment of Palestinians and told why he orchestrated attacks by three hijacked U.S. passenger jets on Sept. 11, 2001. TikTok now blocks the hashtag #LettertoAmerica so users can't search for it.

Several clips sympathizing with bin Laden's views on Israel and the U.S. racked up tens of thousands of views. (He died in a 2011 U.S. military raid in Pakistan.) The White House condemned the online activity, saying: "There is never a justification for spreading the repugnant, evil and antisemitic lies that the leader of Al Qaeda issued just after committing the worst terrorist attack in American history." TikTok reacted by posting a Nov. 16 statement that says: "Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism. We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform." It didn't say how many videos related to the letter were taken down.

"This is not unique to TikTok," the firm added. Indeed, hate speech against Jews, Palestinians and Muslims in general has surged on many online services since an Israel-Hamas war began in early October with horrific attacks by Gaza Strip militants on Israeli civilians. TikTok has gained extra attention because of its China ties and because it feeds content to 150 million U.S. users. Forty-three percent of U.S. TikTok users say they regularly get news content on the app, up from 22 percent in 2020, according to an independent survey released this month.

Outspoken critics include Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who was South Carolina governor from 2011-17. "I have long said that we have to ban TikTok," she restated on Fox News Radio two weeks ago. "And if you didn't know why, there's [now] another example. . . . It's infiltration [by China], trying to influence young voters." Separately, dozens of well-known American Jews posted an open letter urging the company to combat hateful posts more effectively. "Your platform is not safe for Jewish users," it begins. "Hate and vitriol is not rare, spontaneous or unexpected. Sadly, rampant antisemitism is a common problem that TikTok has failed to address for far too long. . . . Anger fueled by TikTok has led directly to antisemitic harassment, assault and vandalism." Two U.S.-based TikTok executives who are Jewish participated in a private 90-minute video call with dozens of letter signers, including actors Sacha Baron Cohen, Debra Messing and Amy Schumer.

TikTok says: "We recognize this is an incredibly difficult and fearful time for millions of people around the world and in our TikTok community. Our leadership has been meeting with creators, civil society, human rights experts and stakeholders to listen to their experiences and feedback." – Company statement

Celebrity says: "You are the main platform for the dissemination of Jew hate." – Deborah Messing, actor, in Nov. 15 video call with TikTok leaders

Presidential candidate says: "We're doing [campaign ads] on platforms that we know that we can trust, and TikTok is one we don't trust." – Nikki Haley, seeking Republican nomination in 2024

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.