Israel is being plagued by a wave of violence characterized by young Arabs attacking Israelis, especially targeting the visibly religious. TikTok, the hottest smartphone app, is playing a central role in this
TikTok videos of Jews being attacked
The first TikTok video of an assault appeared just ten days ago when a young Arab man slapped two Orthodox young men on the Jerusalem light rail.
“לתפארת מדינת ישראל” pic.twitter.com/cbYl48uJly
— Shlomo Shapira (@Shlomo61) April 15, 2021
A caption above the video in Arabic had read: “You will continue to delete and I will continue to upload. It’s either the Palestinian people or you.” The video went viral but the Israeli police eventually arrested the Arab assailant.
Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said that “the video of the attack on the young man on the train in Jerusalem by an apparent terrorist is extremely shocking. This must not be ignored and the Israel Police must arrest the attacker immediately. Today it’s a slap and tomorrow it could be a knife or a shooting. The attacker belongs in prison.”
Ynet reported on one victim, 15-year-old Yedidia Epstein, who said he was pushed, beaten, and slapped in the middle of a busy street in Jerusalem, in front of several police officers.
“There is a competition for likes and views,” Epstein told Ynet. “A video of an Arab slapping an ultra-Orthodox man will get you both, so now everyone is trying to get more likes and views.”
“The Arab who attacked me on Tuesday has not been arrested. I saw him again. I turned to the police and the police tried to arrest him, but he escaped. He came to me with the video and showed it to me, bragging, ‘Look how we attacked you yesterday.’”
Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelvich called on TikTok to remove the content from the network.
“Recently the number of videos on TikTok featuring footage of clearly violent behavior by Muslims against Jews who are visibly Haredi has multiplied,” Yankelvich wrote. “The violence ranges from slaps on the train, threats in eastern Jerusalem and pushing and shoving, and recently even stone-throwing. The images are horrifying and are reminiscent of the chilling times in Jewish history.”
“Along with the criminal enforcement efforts, it is important to make it clear that the spread of these videos is a source of inspiration for additional terrorists who want to “get likes” by harming more Jews.”
TikTok claimed to have removed “a number of videos featuring attacks on religious Jews.”
TikTok’s Israel chief, Assaf Sagi, said the company “harshly condemns the publishing of hateful or violent material of any kind on the TikTok platform.”
“We are working constantly to remove offensive content and even to prevent it from being uploaded to our platform, and we are taking steps to remove the videos and permanently block the accounts in question.”
TikTok’s history of being used for Jew-Hatred
Though the response was appreciated, this recent wave of violence was not the first time the platform was used to target Jews for Arab violence. Last February, Palestinian Media Watch discovered an animated video on TikTok portraying four separate attacks in CGI vignettes set to heroic music. The portrayals were based on actual attacks in which Jews had been murdered. TikTok removed the video.
“Our Community Guidelines make it clear that we do not allow content that promotes terrorism, crime, or other behaviors that could cause harm,” TikTok said in a statement sent to The Times of Israel. “We take our commitment to keeping TikTok safe incredibly seriously.”
Apparently, the social media platform did not take violence targeting Jews as “incredibly seriously” as they said they would. Young Arab men continued posting videos of themselves harassing Jews in Israel, targeting Orthodox Jews in what they called a “challenge”, similar to other online challenges usually involving harmless pranks. These attacks frequently escalated into physical assaults with some even resulting in threats to life.
TikTok, the 7th most downloaded app of the decade, is owned by Chinese-based ByteDance Ltd. The app allows its 1.5 billion users to upload up to 60-second lip-synched videos. Forty-one percent of its users are aged between 16 and 24.
This violently anti-Semitic side of the app morphing into a platform promoting violence was presaged by Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communication at the University of Haifa and senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), and Natalie Masri, a research assistant and graduate student at ICT. Last year, the two published a research paper entitled, “Spreading Hate on TikTok” published in the academic journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. In the study, Prof. Weimann documented many cases of far-right antisemitism with many of the users sharing neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda or calling for violence against Jews and people of color.
Prof. Weimann told Israel365 News that he is in the process of updating the data and is finding that anti-Semitic posts are even more prevalent.
“This surprised me because after we published our study last year, TikTok went on a media campaign to announce that they were removing all the anti-Semitic and hate material on their platform,” Prof. Weiman told Israel365 News. “Our findings show that not only didn’t they remove the material but now there is much more.”
The professor felt that social media is exacerbating racism and other forms of hatred, even engendering violent behavior.
“It is important to consider studies that show these types of posts on social media are desensitizing people to violence,” Professor Weimann said. “There is a negative effect, a process called modeling, of watching the violence that leads to people imitating the same violent behavior. People think that if someone else does something violent and it was successful, then they could, and should do the same.”
The professor considered TikTok to be one of the more egregious influencers.
“That applies to all media however the TikTok is even more troubling for several reasons,” he said. “It is a Chinese-owned company that seems to be more devoted to making profits than any social mission.”
“An additional problem is that TikTok is the fastest growing platform and has a very young target audience. This audience is more vulnerable to violent messages. They are innocent and trust what they see. It is easier to seduce them than adults. The young users can see a Swastika or Hitler or other Nazi material from the Holocaust and not even know what they are seeing. The younger people are disturbingly unaware of the Holocaust.”
The professor noted that with
“They are not necessarily accepting an ideology from TikTok. It is not the nature of the platform which does not lend itself to preaching. It is more that they are channeling hate and violence. If you have a young, frustrated Arab, TikTok will be the way for him to channel this frustration.”
“One of the rewards offered to Muslim Shaheeds (terrorist martyrs) is to be memorialized, glorified, and viral videos are certainly one of the ways this is achieved.”
“This is what is happening on TikTok. Everyone is watching the video and they see the attack and that it is successful, that the assailant got away with it. This wave of attacks is not motivated by ideology. It is a social seduction of fame. The viewers see it is successful and the attackers are rewarded.”
“The terms of service state that they will not post these types of videos,” the professor noted.
TikTok’s Terms of Service state that users may not upload any content that is inflammatory, offensive, hateful, discriminatory, racist, sexist, antagonistic or criminal, although the app has yet to enforce this. However, it does not mean that TikTok is incapable of regulating its content as it is very sensitive to any content critical of China or the ruling regime there.
“They promise to do that and they will certainly decry the recent wave of posts showing attacks on Jews,” Prof. Weiman said. “But even the largest platforms are having problems removing these videos. But TikTok is Chinese and without any political pressure from the West, they have not motivation to spend the money or the resources to do so. The Israeli government is beginning to look into TikTok, as is the Anti-Defamation League. When the pressure from the West becomes significant, TikTok may change.”
Prof. Weiman warned that TikTok has a history of being used for popularizing hatred and violence.
“But there are many more platforms,” the professor warned. “This problem will not go away without a combined effort.”