TikTok skips Knesset meeting on antisemitic online content

"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," TikTok told 'The Jerusalem Post' on Wednesday.

The TikTok logo is seen on a screen over Times Square in New York City, U.S., March 6, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)
The TikTok logo is seen on a screen over Times Square in New York City, U.S., March 6, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)
While Google, Facebook and Twitter all sent representatives to a meeting held on Monday of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on antisemitic content online, TikTok refused to send a representative.
The meeting was held after MK David Bitton called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to meet with the heads of social networks in order to educate them on the importance of removing antisemitic content, stressing that that Israel must work to remove all antisemitic and anti-Israel content from the internet.
Bitton then established an interministerial committee to work with Google, Twitter, Facebook, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry to determine the guidelines for the swift removal of antisemitic material, demanding that the committee establish a policy to establish a policy for lodging complaints, rather than wait for the companies to take action.
After the establishment of the committee, a meeting was held with representatives of top social networks Google, Facebook and Twitter, but TikTok did not show up to Monday's meeting.
This is not the first hearing on antisemitism that the Knesset has held and TikTok has refused to join, the first of which was held in July with Twitter, and called by MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White) which addressed Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei activity on Twitter.
Following the second meeting TikTok reached out to the Knesset and requested a private meeting.
 "It is important for the public to know that TikTok was invited to attend both Knesset hearings but declined participation, and has now reached out to myself and the Chair of the Committee MK David Bitan requesting a private meeting. In response, the Committee has again invited TikTok to participate in a hearing so that just as with Twitter, Facebook, and Google, TikTok can be held to account in a transparent manner that the public can witness," Cotler-Wunsh told The Jerusalem Post.
She also stated that "In order to stop the culture of impunity against Jews that exists both on and offline, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and TikTok must adopt and implement the IHRA definition of antisemitism – including delegitimization, demonization, and double standards – and utilize this consensus definition to flag antisemitic content and to educate the public.”  
A TikTok representative previously told the Post that they would be happy to meet with the Knesset on the issue.
 "Antisemitism is abhorrent, and antisemitic hate speech has no place on our [TikTok's] 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," a representative from TikTok said.
These major social networking companies often employ double standards when it comes to Israel, according to Cotler-Wunsh ) who said during Monday's meeting that "They allow people to say 'Israeli' or 'Zionist' instead of 'Jewish,' and allow people to post everything they would not dare say against Jews in real life."
In line with Bitton's earlier sentiment, she added that "the companies' declared policy is not enough. The problem is that this policy is not implemented."
However, head of policy at Facebook Israel, Jordana Cutler, refuted Cotler-Wunsh's claim. Cutler stated that Facebook regularly holds roundtable discussions with representatives of Jewish communities around the world, as well as with representatives of Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress, to hear about their experiences and improve Facebook's measures.
Cutler-Wunsh additionally denied claims that Facebook is less tolerant when it comes to anti-Muslim or homophobic posts, as she cited a recent report published by the European Commission according to which Facebook assessed 95.7% of hate speech notifications in less than 24 hours.
The claim was negated by Strategic Affairs director-general Ronen Manelis who rejected the data and argued that the notifications include all racist notifications and that the European Commission did not provide a separate assessment of the social networks' handling of antisemitic content.
Manelis presented a plan for continuing Israel's fight against antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel online, which includes an establishment of an interministerial forum to spearhead the efforts on behalf of the State of Israel.
This forum will include representatives from the Strategic Affairs Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. He also suggested a series of demands from the social networks that will compel them to deal with them phenomenon effectively: set a clear policy for tracking and identifying anti-Semitic and delegitimizing discourse, increase enforcement and increase transparency in reporting on the measures taken to combat the phenomenon.
Noa Elefant Loffler, Senior 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 is the more problematic of the two."
Following the publication of this report on Wednesday, TikTok sent The Jerusalem Post a statement: "Keeping our users safe is a top priority for TikTok, and our Community Guidelines make clear what is not acceptable on our platform. 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."
This is not the first time that TikTok has been known for its antisemitic actions. Many reports in the past have come out showing antisemitic content.
One TikTok video posted earlier this year mocked the Holocaust-era tattoos given to prisoners at Nazi concentration camps had garnered over 600,000 views, and had been been "liked" over 63,000 times, according to a report by Algemeiner.
According to a study revealed in June, TikTok has become a large platform for far right extremists to spread hateful content online, the majority of which is related to antisemitism and and Holocaust denial. This included videos of Nazi rallies with a variety of antisemitic messages.
The study was written by Gabriel Weimann, professor of communication and senior researcher at the Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT), professor emeritus at the University of Haifa and guest professor at the University of Maryland, and Natalie Masri, a research assistant and graduate student at ICT. It is going to be published in the academic journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.
“[The study] was one of the most complicated and difficult in my 22 years of studying online content, even more than studying the dark web,” Weimann told The Jerusalem Post.
“This is because of how well concealed it is on TikTok. They [the users] know that using keywords like ‘Hitler’ or ‘Nazi’ is too difficult, so they use a combination of symbols and hashtags – SSHitler, for instance. In addition, we couldn’t just stick to videos and texts: We had to analyze symbols, too. And some of them are more obscure.
"They won’t just stick to using a swastika. They could use the ‘sonnenrad,’ the black sun, as well," Weiman said. "There could be someone wearing a sonnenrad t-shirt in the video, rather than an easily identifiable symbol in a thumbnail. This is not easy to track, because no computerized system will detect it. And there were thousands of videos to go through.”
Other videos were centered on racism and white supremacy, including a video of a young boy saying: “White people need to start owning some black people, so take your black friends and sell them.”
All of this is made worse by the fact that such content on the app is almost entirely unregulated.
Though TikTok's Terms of Service state that users may not upload any content that is inflammatory, offensive, hateful, discriminatory, racist, sexist, antagonistic or criminal, the app has yet to enforce this.
And yet, it isn’t as if TikTok is incapable of regulating the content on the platform.
“The company is very careful about any content concerning China,” he said. “If you upload any content whatsoever that is against the Chinese government, it will be taken down – they are very careful about this. But they aren’t careful about anything else," Weimann added.
Aaron Reich contributed to this report.