South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on the Chinese-owned social media giant’s finances and content moderation practices during a Senate hearing Wednesday on child safety online, and specifically asked about content related to the Israel-Hamas war.
Chew appeared before senators alongside Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, X CEO Linda Yaccarino, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel and Discord CEO Jason Citron for a heated session on social media’s negative effects on children and mental health.
Chew disclosed that more than 170 million Americans used TikTok monthly, 20 million more than the company said were active last year.
Under questioning by Graham, he said TikTok would spend more than $2 billion on trust and safety efforts, but declined to say how the figure compared to the company’s overall revenue.
“I just think $2 billion sounds like a lot, unless you made $100 billion. So the point is, when you tell us you’re going to spend $2 billion, great! But how much do you make?” demanded Graham.
He continued: “It’s also not just about children, the damage being done. Do you realize, Mr. Chew, that your TikTok representative in Israel resigned yesterday?”
He was referencing the resignation of Barak Herscowitz, the company’s government relations official in Israel, over the proliferation of antisemitic and anti-Israel content on the platform.
“Yes, I am aware,” Chew responded.
Herscowitz announced his resignation from TikTok on X on Monday. “We are living in a time where our very existence as Jews and Israelis is under attack and in danger. In such an unstable period, people’s priorities become sharper. Am Yisrael Chai.”
In response to a comment on the resignation, he added: “I did my best as long as I was there. There are wonderful people at TikTok Israel who are doing their best.”
TikTok has come under fire following a major report in December that said the company had a lackluster approach to combatting antisemitism on the video social media platform and that Jewish employees have spoken out against an increasingly toxic work environment since Hamas’s October 7 massacre and the subsequent war in Gaza.
Unnamed workers told Fox Business that colleagues have freely expressed antisemitic and anti-Israel views on Lark, their internal chat system, and said that the company’s 40,000 moderators have allowed anti-Israel and antisemitic misinformation to run rampant on TikTok.
A TikTok source told Jewish Insider this week that Herscowitz was behind a memo in late December to senior TikTok officials warning that the social media platform had adopted an unequal policy regarding Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza and was allowing content featuring graphic violence and incitement against Israelis to be featured.
TikTok at the time also refused to run a paid ad campaign in which family members of hostages held by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza appealed for the release of their loved ones, deeming the content to be “too political,” according to a Fox News report.
The memo was said to have acknowledged that while some antisemitic content had been removed from the platform, employees within the company, including those in charge of content moderation, had openly expressed “support for terrorism or endorsed extremist movements” that work against Israel.
According to the Fox News report, screenshots of TikTok’s internal employee chat platform showed content moderators celebrating the Hamas assault, as well as praising other Iran-backed terror groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen, both of which have launched attacks on Israel since the start of the war in Gaza.
Graham cited Herscowitz’s tweet and the Fox News report in his questioning of Chew.
“Senator, I want to make it clear that pro-Hamas content and hate speech is not allowed on our platform,” Chew responded.
“Why did he resign, why did he quit?” Graham interjected.
Senator Lindsey Graham asks TikTok CEO, Shou Zi Chew, about an Israeli worker leaving tiktok After saying Tiktok is knowingly promoting content designed to inflict damage on the Jewish state
Notice, similar to pro hamas, Shou Zi Chew can’t seem to give a straight answer pic.twitter.com/7KSXFxOiVM
— ᗰᗩᑎᘜᗩ ᕼOᖇᔕᗴ ???? (@Manga_Horse) February 1, 2024
Chew did not directly respond to the question, and reiterated that the platform does not allow hateful content. “We will investigate,” said Chew, who last appeared before US lawmakers in March.
“He gave up a good job because he thinks your platform is being used to help people who want to destroy the Jewish state. And I’m not saying you want that,” Graham said, then turning his attention to the other tech CEOs in the room.
At one point, Graham told Zuckerberg, “You and the companies before us, I know you don’t mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands. You have a product that’s killing people.”
“After years of working on this issue with you and others, I’ve come to conclude the following: Social media companies as they’re currently designed and operate are dangerous products,” Graham said.