This has led to concerns over the platform's potential bias against Israel, given ByteDance's significant ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In the weeks following the terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas, pro-Palestinian posts on TikTok have reportedly garnered considerably more engagement than those supporting Israel. Experts suggest this could be due to the algorithm employed by the Chinese-owned app.
According to data reviewed by Axios, between October 23 and 30, posts with the hashtag #StandWithIsrael received 64 million views, while those with #StandWithPalestine received 285 million views. TikTok's data also reveals a demographic difference in viewership. Posts with #StandWithPalestine were viewed by a younger audience, with 87% of viewers under 35, compared to 66% for posts with #StandWithIsrael.
Geoffrey Cain, a technologist, told the DCNF, “ByteDance … has developed the most successful social media algorithm ever. Under Chinese law, the algorithm and the people who run it must report to the Chinese Communist Party. TikTok’s pro-Palestine content is far outperforming pro-Israel content because the algorithm has decided so.”
A Pew Research Center survey in May revealed that 60% of American adults under 30 view Palestinian people favorably, while 55% view Israeli people favorably.
Jake Denton, a research associate at the Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, told the DCNF, “TikTok wields significant influence over young minds. The platform has quickly become the primary search browser and source of news for young Americans, and its algorithm, which is influenced by the CCP, controls what information users see about important world events like the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
A survey by Her Campus Media published in September found that almost 75% of women aged 11-26 use TikTok as a search engine, and over 50% of them prefer it over Google. Furthermore, 16% of American teens use TikTok “almost constantly,” according to Pew Research Center in August 2022.
ByteDance has an internal CCP committee, and the Chinese parent company’s personnel utilized TikTok data to monitor American journalists reporting on the app in 2022, Forbes reported.
Jewish TikTok creators have also alleged that their engagement has dropped on posts about Israel, according to a letter they sent to the platform on Wednesday.
Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer told the DCNF, “TikTok’s curation preferences just shouldn’t matter here, but the fact is it does, and it’s important given the CCP’s control over the service. Frankly, it should signal to any lawmaker (Republican or Democrat) to ban it given TikTok’s ability to influence our population on key issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Republicans have also been increasing calls to ban TikTok as a result of its content during the Israel-Hamas War.
Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn told the DCNF, “It would not be surprising that the Chinese-owned TikTok is pushing pro-Hamas content. The CCP benefits by destabilizing the Middle East and pushing the United States to put more manpower back into the region. The United States needs to ban this app that steals and spies on American users.”
Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told the DCNF, “Communist China is capable of using TikTok’s algorithm to manipulate and influence Americans. We’ve seen TikTok used to downplay the Uyghur genocide, the status of Taiwan, and now Hamas terrorism. This is further proof that the app needs to be banned and treated for what it is: foreign propaganda.”
Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin also argued for a ban in an op-ed published in The Free Press on Wednesday.
“By tweaking the TikTok algorithm, the CCP can censor information and influence Americans of all ages on a variety of issues,” he wrote. “It can shape what facts they consider accurate, and what conclusions they draw from world events … Neither banning Huawei nor banning TikTok restricts the speech of Americans.”
China has not condemned Hamas, despite its Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel that slaughtered 1,400 Israelis and took more than 200 people as hostages, according to NBC. Over half of Americans aged 18-24 believe the attack “can be justified by the grievance of Palestinians,” according to a Harvard/Harris poll.
Internet Accountability Project founder and president Mike Davis told the DCNF, “When a China-run platform like TikTok promotes anti-Israel propaganda, it’s clear our chief global rival is trying to undermine our relationship with one of our strongest allies by influencing our youth. China seeks to sow discord internally in America, and TikTok is their most effective tool.”
TikTok refuted the claims that hashtag data indicates the platform has pro-Palestinian bias in a blog post on Thursday.
“Over the last few days, there has been unsound analysis of TikTok hashtag data around the conflict, causing some commentators to falsely insinuate TikTok is pushing pro-Palestine content over pro-Israel content to U.S. users,” it states. “That’s simply false. In fact, since Oct. 7 in the U.S., the hashtag #standwithisrael has gained 1.5x more views than #standwithpalestine: 46.3M views compared to 29.4M views.”