TikTok used to air tensions, incite violence between Israelis and Palestinians
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TikTok has entered the fray between the clashing Israelis and Palestinians — with the two sides using the popular video app to air grievances and incite violence, according to reports.
Even before the latest hostilities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, tensions between the two sides have played out on the Chinese-owned social media platform — which has about 732 million members, the BBC reported.
In April, Israeli police arrested two 17-year-old Palestinians over an unprovoked attack against an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on a Jerusalem train, Haaretz reported.
One of the suspects, both of them residents of the neighborhood of Shoafat, posted video of the incident on TikTok before fleeing to the West Bank, according to police.
The teen, who was arrested at the Qalandiyah crossing point in Jerusalem, posted a caption reading, “Continue to delete [my TikToks] and I’ll continue to post. It’s the Palestinian people or you,” the Israeli daily reported.
The footage sparked outrage, with Interior Minister Arye Dery saying the incident was “shocking and anti-Semitic.”
Meanwhile, protest videos have proliferated on the site, where users have spread the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah, referring to threatened evictions of Palestinian families in a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, according to the BBC.
Chris Stokely-Walker, author of “TikTok Boom: China, the US and the Superpower Race for Social Media,” told the news outlet that TikTok’s ease of use and overwhelming popularity have allowed its content to spread rapidly.
“Creating tools for video through the app are so simple that anybody from a 12-year-old to a 90-year-old can actually do it themselves without all that much technical nous,” Stokely-Walker told the BBC.
“It’s also the size of the audience. We know that TikTok has something like 732 million monthly active users worldwide. So if you’re posting something, then the likelihood is it will be seen by a lot of people,” Stokely-Walker added.
Users of TikTok and other social media sites are using the #SaveSheikhJarrah hashtag alongside video of clashes with Israeli forces, as well as the ongoing hostilities in Gaza.
One clip posted on TikTok by US-based news site Muslim allegedly shows Palestinians fleeing Israeli strikes in Gaza. It has garnered more than 44 million views.
And a post on the platform by user Sabrina Abukhdeir shows crying Palestinian kids and the destruction of a high-rise block in enclave.
“You guys know what to do,” she wrote, urging people to share the clip, which has more than 1.5 million views.
Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said last month that people are calling the Palestinian uprising against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip the “TikTok intifada,” the UK’s Spectator reported.
“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Supporters of the Jewish state also have turned to TikTok, where one video allegedly shows an Israeli soldier shielding a Palestinian woman from rocks thrown by Palestinian protesters, according to the BBC.
The Israel Defense Forces also has a strong presence online, with some 1.3 million followers on Twitter and over 70,000 on TikTok, the outlet reported.
Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communications at Haifa University in Israel, told the BBC that there’s a battle of “hearts and minds” online — and that “it’s not an equal war” at the moment.
“From the Israeli side you see a counter flow, which I must say is less powerful, not organized at all, and if you ask me, less persuasive,” Weimann told the outlet. “Maybe because in Israel, nobody thought that TikTok would be a powerful or important platform.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has asked TikTok and Facebook to remove posts that he said could encourage violence.
“These are measures that will directly prevent the violence that is being intentionally stirred through social media by extremist elements that are seeking to do damage to our country,” Gantz reportedly said, according to the BBC.
“We are in a moment of social emergency, and we expect your assistance,” he added.
Israel National News reported that honchos at both companies promised to “act quickly and effectively to prevent incitement on their networks.”
“Our teams have been working swiftly to remove misinformation, attempts to incite violence, and other content that violates our Community Guidelines, and will continue to do so,” a TikTok rep told the BBC in a statement.
Shaydanay Urbani of First Draft News, an organization that counters disinformation online, told the outlet that “a lot of the things we have seen are old media taken out of context. [Stories] circulating from a totally different time and a totally different place.”
The BBC cited a report in the New York Times about a widely shared video of Palestinians allegedly faking a funeral.
The clip appeared to show a group of people carrying a body on their shoulders before dropping it when a siren sounded — and the corpse jumping up and running away.
The Times reported that the original footage appeared over a year ago on YouTube with a caption saying it was actually a Jordanian family faking a funeral.
TikTok has deleted the clip for violating its community guidelines.
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