TikTok lambasted for failing to show up at Knesset anti-Semitism hearing

MK accuses Chinese video app of evading accountability for bigoted content on its platform, which is used mostly by young people

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The social media application logo TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone, in Arlington, Virginia, April 13, 2020. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)
The social media application logo TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone, in Arlington, Virginia, April 13, 2020. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)

Tiktok, the Chinese-owned video app, was rapped Monday for failing to show up at a Knesset hearing discussing social media companies’ policies on anti-Semitic content.

“It is especially telling that representatives of TikTok are not here,” MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White) said at the beginning of a session of the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. She went on to lament the company’s “lack of accountability and responsibility,” noting that TikTok is a platform where “millions of children are exposed to virulently anti-Semitic content” for long periods of time. “They too must be held to account.”

Representatives of the company had declined  two invitations to the hearing, the lawmaker’s aides said.

“We look upon this very gravely,” she said, “because I think it is our role to be the voice for children who don’t know how to define anti-Semitism, who don’t know what they’re seeing.”

Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Avishai Finkelstein)

More than 40 percent of TikTok users are believed to between the ages of 16 and 24.

The Knesset session, which was headed by committee chairman David Bitan (Likud), also scrutinized the policies of other internet companies. It was attended by Jordana Cutler, head of policy at Facebook Israel; Noa Elefant-Loffler, country marketing manager at Google Israel; and Matthew Krieger, who represents Twitter.

“In order to stop the culture of impunity against Jews that exists both on- and offline, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and TikTok, despite their noticeable absence, must adopt and implement the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of anti-Semitism — including delegitimization, demonization, and double standards – and utilize this consensus definition to flag anti-Semitic content and to educate the public,” Cotler-Wunsh said.

At the committee meeting, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry presented data it collected on anti-Jewish incitement on social media networks, especially in Arabic, saying it tracks “hundreds of thousands of anti-Semitic posts every day.”

Yogev Karsenty, who directs the ministry’s efforts to counter Jew-hatred, indicated that social media companies are not doing enough to combat anti-Semitic hate speech.

“Effectively, networks must change their policies,” he demanded.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch did not attend the Knesset hearing but in a statement called on social media companies to apply the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism to its various platforms.

“Freedom of expression ends where anti-Semitic incitement begins,” she said. “The forgiveness of social media networks regarding anti-Semitic messages in Arabic is unacceptable. The portrayal of a Jew with a long nose in an Arabic outlet should not be treated differently than the same image in western press — anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism.”

A Tehran resident, Hamed Ghassemi, looks at his cellphone, with a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

On Wednesday, a Twitter official addressed the committee and said that tweets in which Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei calls for Israel’s destruction do not violate the company’s rules against hate speech, and indicated that they are considered mere “foreign policy saber-rattling.”

“We have an approach toward leaders that says that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on military-economic issues are generally not in violation of our rules,” said Ylwa Pettersson, Twitter’s head policy for the Nordic countries and Israel.

Her comments drew widespread outrage, including from the White House.

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