Jewish celebrities, influencers tell TikTok executives ‘shame on you’

The influencers and celebrities urged TikTok to take more steps against antisemitism on the platform and described the failure by TikTok’s tools to prevent antisemitic comments — such as ‘Hitler was right.’

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

More than a dozen Jewish TikTok influencers and celebrities addressed the uptick in antisemitic harassment on the short-form video app during a private video call with TikTok executives on Wednesday night, according to a new report.

The New York Times obtained a recording of the meeting, which had more than 30 people in attendance — including actors Sacha Baron Cohen, Debra Messing, and Amy Schumer. The call was led by Adam Presser, TikTok’s head of operations, and Seth Melnick, the social media platform’s global head of user operations — both of whom are Jewish.

“Shame on you,” Cohen told Presser during the call. “What is happening at TikTok is it is creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis. If you think back to Oct. 7, the reason why Hamas were able to behead young people and rape women was they were fed images from when they were small kids that led them to hate.” He shamed TikTok for allowing similar inflammatory content, as well as misinformation, to spread on the platform.

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“Obviously a lot of what Sacha says, there’s truth to that,” Presser replied, referring to Cohen’s comments about social media companies needing to take more action against antisemitism.

TikTok hosted the meeting on Wednesday in response to an open letter that more than 40 Jewish social media influencers and celebrities recently sent the app. They wrote in the letter that the platform is not safe for Jewish users, and that executives are “not doing enough” to curtail antisemitism and online hatred on TikTok.

Several members of Congress have also called for TikTok to be banned in the US, saying that the app, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, could allow the Chinese government to obtain data from Americans and influence the content promoted by TikTok’s algorithm. Lawmakers also argued that the platform is advancing anti-Israel content online amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

TikTok announced on Thursday that it will prohibit content promoting the “Letter to America” written by the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2002 that started going viral on TikTok this week. The letter — in which Bin Laden justified the killing of Americans and expressed hatred of Jewish people and Israel — has garnered support among some social media users and was one of the issues raised during Wednesday’s video call.

The influencers and celebrities urged TikTok to take more steps against antisemitism on the platform and described the failure by TikTok’s tools to prevent antisemitic comments — such as “Hitler was right” or “I hope you end up like [Holocaust victim] Anne Frank — on posts uploaded by Jewish users.

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Messing urged TikTok to moderate the usage of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a pro-Palestinian slogan that is widely interpreted as a call to eradicate Israel and replace it with “Palestine.” But Presser said if the phrase is used “casually,” TikTok’s 40,000 moderators will allow it.

“Where it is clear exactly what they mean — ‘kill the Jews, eradicate the state of Israel’ — that content is violative and we take it down,” he said on the call, according to The New York Times. “Our approach up until [Hamas’ massacre of Israelis on] Oct. 7, continuing to today, has been that for instances where people use the phrase where it’s not clear, where someone is just using it casually, then that has been considered acceptable speech.”

Messing fired back, saying, “It is much more responsible to bar it at this juncture than to say, ‘Oh, well, some people, they use it in a different way than it actually was created to mean.’ I understand that you are in a very, very difficult and complicated place, but you also are the main platform for the dissemination of Jew hate.”

TikTok said in a statement that it does not allow content with the slogan “when it’s used in a way that threatens violence and spreads hate.”

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Other issues raised during the call included concerns about TikTok’s editing tools being used to create content targeting Jewish users and complaints about Jewish users not being able to directly contact a TikTok team member for help with harassment, or having to wait several days for a response.

“To hear that this place, this platform, this community that has brought you so much joy and helps each of you as individuals is becoming a place that feels like somewhere that you’re not sure you want to spend time on, I mean, that’s devastating,” Presser said. “This is where we get the feedback, this is where we hear what isn’t working. A lot of it, honestly I am embarrassed to say, is new. I haven’t heard a lot of it.”