Pro Palestinian demonstration in New York

Pick your battles: Despite the dangers, taking out TikTok is not the solution for Israeli diplomacy

TikTok is seen by parts of the public as a "danger to national security" that uses bots and covert campaigns to sway young public opinion against Israel. But if we had reliable institutions that don't feed on division and incitement, TikTok wouldn't really be a problem

In recent days TikTok, the social network of young people, has returned to being the topic of the day among adults. They claim it’s a Chinese propaganda tool, a data collection machine for Russia, that it’s flooded with Arab bots and a disaster for national security. Many called on parents to remove the app from children's devices, and others called on governments to ban the app entirely.
Of course, the general panic does not exist in a vacuum. In a recent survey conducted by Harvard, 51% of Americans aged 18-24 believe that the terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7 on the civilian population in Israel was "justified". What brings about this moral defect? The answer is in the arena where most of those young people are and which most of Gen-Z use as a search engine - TikTok.
1 View gallery
מפגינים פרו פלסטיניים בברוקלין ניו יורק ב טיקטוק של the messenger
מפגינים פרו פלסטיניים בברוקלין ניו יורק ב טיקטוק של the messenger
Pro Palestinian demonstration in New York
(Screenshot: TikTok)
These facts lead to the unconfirmed conclusions of many that the network itself is a tool for shaping consciousness in the hands of centralized entities. It is easy to connect the dots since it is a well-established fact that content on TikTok is filtered, promoted, and censored according to a series of guidelines from the Chinese regime. Thus, for example, in 2020 the news website Intercept revealed that the company instructs its content filters to remove or limit the distribution of videos that are considered ugly or that depict the poor, as well as videos that may harm Chinese "national honor", the police forces or civil servants in China.
It is also an accepted fact that TikTok's algorithm is mysterious and there is no in-depth understanding of the characteristics that make a video viral. This is in addition to the fact that social networks in general are toxic arenas that derive their source of life from division, incitement, and radicalization of users. This is how we got, unfortunately, a state where the networks became the bottom of the barrel of human material.
In times of war, the algorithmic opacity is seasoned with the manipulation of bot farms and centralized government. All of these led to the focus of the public's concerns on TikTok as a "danger to national security." Much attention is now being directed there - how to "handle advocacy", how to "trick the algorithm" and how to "save our children."
These are short-sighted questions. It's easy to blame social networks for the world's problems, especially a social network run by an authoritarian Chinese regime. The truth is that studies have found that these are real people who are responsible for most of the spread of fake news (not bots) and that the opinion of users is hardly affected by covert campaigns (such as the effort to disrupt the American elections by the Russians).
It is true that TikTok is fueled by incitement and division, but it was never built or was supposed to serve as a source of complex and nuanced information and knowledge, such as for example regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen-Z accesses these apps to draw their knowledge due to the ongoing erosion of trust in institutions that were supposed to serve as a source of reliable knowledge.
Deleting TikTok will not save the Israeli Hasbara (‘diplomacy’) or the children from morally flawed ideas. Only education, technological literacy, and strengthening institutions can bring moral clarity. But when these same institutions lead the way, just like TikTok, which feeds on division, incitement, and radicalization, deleting TikTok will never bring about Tikkun Olam (‘repairing the world’).