Recently, someone on the social network Reddit shared this in response to the Moment article demonstrating how TikTok’s algorithm can lead a user to extreme and hateful content (“From Zero to Hate in Just a Tik and a Tok”):
“I’m Jewish and study history and Jewish history a lot. On TikTok, I see a neo-Nazi post every three scrolls, on average. Never felt more anger and hatred on a daily basis in my life.”
Like any publication with an interest in reaching audiences, Moment utilizes social media platforms to promote our content, which includes written articles and MomentLive! programs as well as events, partnerships and commentary of the day. TikTok is just one of these avenues for engagement. And while I’d venture a fair number of you may feel you have zero interest in watching videos on TikTok, the pernicious effects and the operating status of the hugely popular social media app are worth keeping an eye on. (But please, do not let me dissuade you from checking out some truly vibrant, funny, specifically Jewish content on TikTok, including a knitter, a modesty influencer and a Holocaust survivor.)
No doubt you’ve heard the rumblings about banning TikTok altogether in the United States—the app was banned from government devices last December—or trying to slice off a U.S. subsidiary. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Biden administration is pushing TikTok’s parent company, Bejing-based ByteDance, to divest from TikTok, a push the Chinese government has characterized as “corporate bullying.” Donald Trump tried something similar when he was president, signing two executive orders threatening to ban the app that were struck down in federal courts, in part due to insufficient evidence of harm caused and in the interest of free speech.
Of course, the government’s specific concern in regard to TikTok has to do with national security and China. The Washington Post also reports that TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will appear before Congress next week and will likely be grilled over concerns that the Chinese government could get its hands on millions of Americans’ personal data or use TikTok to spread propaganda. To that end, TikTok and ByteDance have been taking pains to reassure American lawmakers that they act independently of the Chinese government and have an interest in protecting users’ sensitive information.
Which is all to say that while TikTok’s status as a Chinese company may be under serious scrutiny, the video-sharing app remains incredibly popular, captivating (some say addicting), and, as the Jewish Reddit responder shared, a place where hate can thrive.
This is why our series on the social app, which appears in the current issue, is so important for you to read. It necessarily explores the dark side of TikTok and its powerful algorithm. It touches on some of the weirder examples of antisemitism on the platform, such as the eerie Holocaust Challenge that had hundreds of girls dressing and making themselves up to look like concentration camp victims. (One teen even lit her video in ethereal light and added the note: “when you go to heaven you receive a look that represents how you died.”) The series examines how innocent users can be influenced and exposed to hateful ideas. It also, as mentioned, highlights some fun, informative and celebratory output from Jewish TikTokers.
Finally, and this may be the most practical information of all, this series will give you a better idea of how to navigate the good, the bad, and the algorithm—or, if you’re not a user, how a TikToker you love can. (Think of it less as “everything you ever wanted to know about TikTok but were afraid to ask your grandkids” and more like a few valuable things you might want to know about TikTok to impress—and impress upon—them.) You will, for example, learn how to tell the app that you’re not interested in certain types of content. You will learn how not to accidentally like something (an easy mistake to make) and ways to counter negative messaging and to push more positive content.
So what are you waiting for? As always, we welcome your thoughts: Do you watch TikTok? Have you seen openly hateful content or spotted more subversive forms of antisemitism there? Should the government regulate the app or ban it outright? Is it unfair to focus on TikTok if all social media is problematic in some way? Send us a letter to email@example.com.