Researchers say that extremists exploit TikTok’s popularity among younger users.
A recently published study reveals that social networking application TikTok – one of today’s fastest-growing – is a hotbed of extreme anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communication at the University of Haifa and senior researcher at the Institute for Counter Terrorism (ICT), and Natalie Masri, a research assistant and graduate student at ICT, led the research on the paper entitled, “Spreading Hate on TikTok.”
According to Israeli outlet Arutz7, the authors applied systematic content analysis to scan the application for far-right content. Their findings revealed that after investigating videos from February through May 2020, 196 postings related to far-right extremism.
The plurality of postings on TikTok (43 out of 196) related to anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The researchers also discovered 14 postings of Adolf Hitler’s speeches; 11 postings of the Sieg Heil victory salute used by Nazis; 17 videos encouraging violence that featured Nazi or neo-Nazi symbols such as the swastika and sonnenrad; and 26 accounts featuring the numbers “88” in their username, the white supremacist numerical code for “Heil Hitler,” revealed the outlet.
Chinese company ByteDance developed TikTok in 2016 within mainland China and then exported it abroad in 2017. The app allows its 1.5 billion users to upload up to 60-second lip-synched videos. Forty-one percent of its users are aged between 16 and 24. It is supposed to be age-restricted to those 13-years and older, but there is some evidence that this rule is not strictly applied.
While TikTok’s Terms of Service also 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. However, it does not mean that TikTok is incapable of regulating its content as it is very sensitive to any content critical of China or the ruling regime there.
“We need to create awareness about the dangers of TikTok, but that isn’t easy because most people think it’s just a clean app for kids,” Weimann told the Jerusalem Post. “So the first step is to create global awareness. TikTok is not that clean.”