Watching the Israel-Gaza war on TikTok

The app's critics say the popularity of pro-Palestinian videos proves it's a brainwashing machine. The reality is more complicated.

Watching the Israel-Gaza war on TikTok
The Gaza Strip. (Mohammed Ibrahim)

Full story: Israel-Gaza war sparks debate over TikTok’s role in setting public opinion

On TikTok, pro-Palestine videos and hashtags dramatically outrank hashtags such as #standwithisrael, leading some big names in the Republican Party and Silicon Valley to claim it’s proof the video app is a China-manipulated propaganda machine.

But young Americans have trended in support of Palestine for years, out of step with older age brackets — and years before TikTok’s debut. “What some adults think is brainwashing is actually a grassroots, youth-led movement,” one activist told us.

It’s part of a long, angry debate over free speech and propaganda centered on one of the world’s most popular apps. And it reflects a polarized paranoia over how some people view the internet: that the views on social media they support are all legitimate, and the ones they disagree with are all bots.

For the ears

I spoke with Micah Loewinger on WYNC's On the Media:

Before TikTok, we had algorithmic anxiety about YouTube rabbit holes and Facebook and its effects on politics. I think that's just a reality of the conversations we have and our skepticism about these giant platforms with a big influence on how we get our information. But the thing about TikTok's algorithm, the China connection makes these conversations spin into conspiracy really quickly.

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