TikTok refuses to run ads featuring Gaza hostages, claiming they’re ‘too political’

While video-sharing outlet turns down clips from families of hostages, it has featured videos glorifying violence and promoting Hamas’s narrative

Illustrative: The TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen, March 18, 2023. (AP/Michael Dwyer)
Illustrative: The TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen, March 18, 2023. (AP/Michael Dwyer)

Social media giant TikTok refused to run a paid ad campaign in which family members of hostages held by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza appeal for the release of their loved ones, deeming the content to be “too political.”

While Meta platforms Facebook and Instagram have agreed to host the short video clips, which place a spotlight on the 129 people still held hostage in Gaza, Fox News reported on Sunday that TikTok rejected the request to run the campaign on its platform, saying that it didn’t meet its advertising policies.

Speaking to Fox, content creation manager for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum Yossi Lubaton said that he had first inquired about running the campaign on TikTok several weeks after the brutal October 7 Hamas onslaught, in which some 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 were seized as hostages, but was rejected.

The social media platform stated that its advertising policies do not allow for ads that include “the use of campaign slogans” or those that contain “depictions of war, weapons, hostages and violence.”

“We were told that according to their policy, we were unable to place paid campaigns because they were considered too political or too graphic,” Lubaton said. “They told us it was a strict policy that was applied to the Israeli side, as well as to the other side, and so we started to put the paid campaign on Facebook and Google instead.”

Despite TikTok stating that it would hold both Israeli and Palestinian organizations to the same standard, the report alleged that the video-sharing app had nevertheless agreed to platform “humanitarian campaigns that serve Hamas’ narrative while fundraising for children in Gaza.”

Citing an internal memo written by a senior TikTok employee in Israel, the report said that the social media platform had adopted an unequal policy regarding Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, and after rejecting the ad on political grounds, had allowed content featuring graphic violence and incitement against Israelis to be featured.

The memo was said to have acknowledged that while some antisemitic content has been removed from the platform, employees within the company, including those in charge of content moderation, have openly expressed “support for terrorism or endorsed extremist movements” that work against Israel.

According to the 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.

A Palestinian stands on a burning tank in the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip after some 3,000 Hamas terrorists destroyed the border fence and entered Israel. October 7, 2023. (Yousef Mohammed/Flash90)

In response to the Fox report, TikTok denied that it has adopted a biased approach to content, stating that “these allegations are false and do not reflect TikTok policies in any way.”

“We are clear in our advertising policies what content is allowed to be advertised and apply those policies equally to all ads on TikTok,” the statement added. “We invest heavily in training our moderators to apply these policies consistently.”

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said in response that he had contacted TikTok’s management and demanded that it change its decision not to run the ads.

Since the outbreak of the war, TikTok has been accused of favoring pro-Palestinian voices and serving as an echo chamber for anti-Israel sentiment.

Earlier in December, Jewish employees of the company told Fox Business that their work environment had become increasingly toxic due to antisemitic sentiment expressed by colleagues, as well as the company’s failure to combat Jew-hating rhetoric on the video-sharing platform.

“Going into the office these days is very stressful,” a Jewish employee told the news outlet. “If you go in then you don’t speak to anyone else about being from Israel or having any connection to Israel.”

After the war, the company will “not likely retain many of its Jewish employees,” the employee added, as Jewish staff are ashamed to say they work for the company.

Between October 7 and November 17, the company said it had removed over 1 million videos that violated its content rules, in addition to 1.6 million videos with hateful content, including antisemitism.

Michael Horovitz contributed to this report.

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