The continued conflict between Israel and Palestine has caused TikTok, an app with 1 billion monthly active users, to depart from its superficial dances, lip-syncing and skits. Research shows that Gen Z are more likely to turn to TikTok than to Google for news coverage, presenting a huge problem for the social media platform as they navigate the differentiation between propaganda and reality. In addition to this, many consider TikTok as a threat to freedom of information due to the echo chambers that are perpetuated by their algorithm. I will discuss in this article the issue of unregulated, false information which incites hatred and propagates radicalisation, and how this has affected perceptions of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The epidemic of false information is evidenced by clips which attempt to frame events out of context. For example, there is a video with 200,000 likes that supposedly shows Hamas parachuting into crowds which was actually taken at a festival in Egypt on the 27th of September. There was another viral clip showing hundreds of concertgoers running away, with the caption “festival attendees running for their lives” which was actually footage of fans from a Bruno Mars concert. A lot of posts that audiences engage with on TikTok are taken out of context, which makes the use of the app as a political instrument multifaceted. There aren’t simply two perspectives, but millions, and thus the discussion is less centralised than it was before. Given the rise of TikTok and reduced traction surrounding traditional reporting, there is less of an attempt to try to explain context and rival explanations from competing sides.
However, this is not the only problem that TikTok faces: the effect of this misinformation is what is truly dangerous. With suspicions and distrust already extremely prevalent, misinformation inflames those tensions further. Although TikTok have said that they are “working swiftly to remove misinformation,” a video from Israel was circulating last month which promoted assaulting Orthodox Jews. As a result, a band of Jewish extremists, Lehava, organised a march in response where they clashed with Arab groups at Damascus Gate. The link between posting violent content and promoting conflict is well established, and platforms such as TikTok exacerbate our tendency to polarise and apply absolute labels such as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Therefore, peaceful resolutions to conflicts are made more difficult and actual wars start to meld into culture wars.
In our mediatised society, an event is more likely to be filmed, edited, uploaded and available for millions of people to see in a matter of minutes. Another concern is that this has a radicalising effect as it combines with the algorithm that TikTok employ to push relevant content to its users. Critics allege that TikTok is using its influence to push content that is pro-Palestinian and contrary to US foreign policy interests. There is a growing concern that we are receiving the wrong information about Hamas and Israel, and upon interacting with that false information, our feed becomes aggressively filled with it, creating an echo chamber. Thus, the distribution of information on TikTok creates a vicious cycle which encourages further polarisation of opinion.
Although TikTok is likely not going to lead to the downfall of society, the days of trust in news are behind us. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict highlights key areas for concern regarding the use of TikTok as a news outlet. Although it has brought people together to show support, educate and fundraise, TikTok must address the spread of propaganda which worsens already high tensions, and incites hatred and extremism through the distribution of content via the algorithm.