New Report Finds Rampant Anti-Semitism on TikTok
A recent study conducted by Gabriel Weimann and Natalie Masri at Haifa University’s Institute for Counter Terrorism discovered a wide array of anti-Semitic content on the fastest-growing social media app, TikTok.
The Times of Israel reported that from February to May, the researchers came across close to 200 postings that could be considered “far-right extremist”. Roughly 20% of these postings were specifically anti-Semitic. To compile this data, and more, Weimann and Masri took a dual-pronged approach: find the accounts of well-known extremist groups and search for hashtags that are more broadly associated with extremist movements.
TikTok is a Chinese app in which users can post short videos of themselves. To lay out the cause for their research, Weimann and Masri noted that the rate of far-right terrorist attacks had risen by 320% from 2014 to 2019, based on the 2019 Global Terrorism Index. They define “far-right” as a political ideology focused on one of a number of elements, including xenophobia, nativism, anti-Semitism or fascism. In their research, they also describe democratization of the internet as a double-edged sword. In theory and in practice, more user-generated content on apps like TikTok can grant extremist groups a large platform.
Weimann and Masri point to the publishing of analysis from Motherboard in December 2019 as the moment when hate speech on TikTok was first realized to be a major issue. That research uncovered TikTok accounts with titles like “all jews must die” and several videos featuring common tropes of Holocaust denial.
The findings of Weimann and Masri’s research present a troubling picture of many instances of many different forms of far-right extremism on TikTok. In the case of anti-Semitism, several “themes” overlap. While 43 of the 196 extremist TikTok posts discovered were classified under the theme of “anti-Semitism”, an additional 14 posts quoted speeches from Hitler while 11 more included the Nazi salute, “Sieg Heil”. Given that TikTok has been downloaded more than 2 billion times since it was launched three years ago, individual posts can be seen by a large audience.
The researchers cite one post in particular, a questioning of the number of deaths in the Holocaust, as having received more than 2,400 views. Videos with the hashtag “hailhitler” have received more than 3,300 views on the platform. To chart a path forward, the researchers point to TikTok’s Terms of Service which theoretically outlaw this type of conduct on their app. One subpoint of the Terms of Service specifically condemns the content that was discovered.
The Terms state that a user may not “intimidate or harass another, or promote sexually explicit material, violence or discrminiation based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age…” Weimann and Masri conclude that given the depth of anti-Semitism that their research uncovered, TikTok must begin enforcing their policies.