TikTok ‘shunned’ talks on tackling antisemitism

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TikTok ‘shunned’ talks on tackling antisemitism

Social media giant accused of snubbing Knesset meeting attended by Google, Facebook and Twitter

Israel has accused the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok of “shunning” its efforts to combat online antisemitism after company representatives “refused to attend” a key meeting this week.

Israeli lawmakers and tech bosses were discussing ways to eradicate online Jew hatred, with Google, Facebook and Twitter all represented at a meeting hosted by the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Monday.

However, in a damning statement issued on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Knesset said TikTok “refused to send a representative” – a charge the company did not deny in its response to inquiries from this newspaper.

Last month a series of Holocaust-themed videos accompanied by a song about Auschwitz, which included the lyric “it’s shower time,” garnered 6.5 million views on TikTok before the company belatedly pulled them offline.

In response to that incident, the company said it “does not tolerate” antisemitism on its platform, and this week a spokeswoman reiterated that point to Jewish News, saying it took a zero-tolerance approach while not denying that its representatives refused to attend the Knesset meeting on online antisemitism.

“Keeping our users safe is a top priority for TikTok, and our Community Guidelines make clear what is not acceptable on our platform,” the spokeswoman said.

“Antisemitism is abhorrent and antisemitic hate speech has no place on our platform. We are happy to meet with members of the Knesset to address their questions and look forward to engaging with them at the earliest opportunity.”

Owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, TikTok has become the latest Chinese technology caught up in a giant geopolitical battle between the White House and an increasingly assertive President Xi Jinping, with Donald Trump this week threatening to ban the app from the United States.

(Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

While the problem of antisemitism on social media is not confined to TikTok, a study published in the Studies in Conflict and Terrorism journal in June noted a “disturbing presence” of far-right extremism on the app, including antisemitic material.

In other areas TikTok has won praise, as with its decision in January to ban all Holocaust denial on the platform, putting it ahead of Facebook which is yet to take such action owing to concerns over free speech protections in the United States where it is based.

At Monday’s meeting Knesset Member and Committee chair David Bitan said Israel must work to remove all antisemitic and anti-Israel online content, calling on senior ministers to meet with the heads of the social networks to push the cause.

Bitan said Israeli lawmakers would work with tech companies “to determine the guidelines for the swift removal of antisemitic material” and to “establish a policy for lodging complaints, rather than wait for the companies to take action”.

Jordana Cutler, head of policy at Facebook Israel, said: “Over the past few years we’ve come a long way in the removal of antisemitic content from our network. We use both Artificial Intelligence and people.” She added that in 88 percent of cases “hate speech is removed before people see it”.

Ministry of Strategic Affairs director-general Ronen Manelis called for companies to “set a clear policy for tracking and identifying antisemitic and delegitimising discourse, increase enforcement, and increase transparency in reporting”.

Noa Elefant Loffler, a policy manager at Google, said: “The distinction is between legitimate criticism about the existence of the State of Israel, even if we do not like it, and calls to harm Israelis. Calls to harm Israelis are the more problematic of the two.”

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