top of page

I have used social media for many years. If I had qualms, I ignored them. I became most involved with TikTok with the @thetrueadventures account. While I managed the account, I found TikTok full of potential, creativity, cleverness, wit, and, of course, the requisite junk. The platform enabled Gidon and I to share his story of surviving the Holocaust with over half a million followers and, through duets and stitches, many more. 


I also began working with Tom Divon of Hebrew University during this time. Tom studies the memetics of TikTok. I helped Tom to gather and categorize antisemitic memes on the app – what I experienced on my account, anyway, which was a lot. Through TikTok Germany, I asked for and was given a “verified” status. Though that status was a net gain for me and my account, I was struck by the behind-the-scenes ease by which I had attained it. If TikTok was able to do that - what else do they do? 

Through these same TikTok reps, I taught two workshops run by TikTok to help the social media creators at several former concentration camps, now memorials, to make better content. The young people involved were amazing, and indeed, their content improved, and their views soared as a result of their creativity and some of the tips that I passed on to them, not just from my experience with @thetrueadventures but from my time as a writer and story analyst working in Hollywood. I understand the language of film and the layered language of TikTok. I also worked with TikTok in Israel for Yom HaShoah, in which @thetrueadventures started a video that other Israeli creators joined, showing the moment the siren sounds in Israel. 


Because I now had several representatives at TikTok with whom I could contact directly, I could ask them for help when, for example, my account got a “strike” because of mass reporting. The TikTok reps immediately fixed my account but denied that “mass reporting” is a phenomenon, though I provided them with a paper written by a researcher at Cornell University showing quite the opposite. This denial was a jarring moment. 


Working together with Tom, noting and noticing multiple incidents of mass reporting and community guideline violations that Jewish creators were receiving, Tom and I formed a Facebook Group for Jewish content creators called Kehillat Now. In the group, we invited members to catalog their experiences, primarily:


  1. Antisemitic content reported that came back as “no violation.”

  2. Strikes, suspensions, or bans of their own accounts with Jewish content. 


Over time, we amassed quite a lot of receipts for both of these phenomena.  


Jointly, Tom and I approached TikTok in Germany and in Israel with these receipts and concerns. We were repeatedly told that TikTok was working very hard to improve its moderation and reporting. But the receipts kept piling up from hundreds of Jewish content creators. 


There is no big, exciting smoking gun in this story. This is likely simply an app that grew at lightning speed but did not work to develop or enhance the safety features needed to protect minority groups. The things I have been describing here have also happened to other minority groups, most notably the LGBTQIA community.  The article linked below was astounding to me because I have heard that statement, almost verbatim from TikTok/Bytedance employees for three years now. There have been no substantive changes. 

“We’re actively listening to the Jewish community and civil society as we work to strengthen our protections to stop the spread of hate,” the company said in a statement to USA Today.

The final straw was when, due to the negligence or incompetence of TikTok in confronting these issues, despite full-throated public statements, I decided to deactivate my account. About two days after I did, TikTok Israel noticed. They texted me and asked if we could Zoom so they could “hear” my “feelings and thoughts.” The same day, we convened a Zoom with two representatives of TikTok Israel, Gidon, me, Tom Divon, and Katriel N., a Jewish-American member of Kehillat Now. When we requested to record the meeting, we were told no, this meeting was to be "off the record." 


The meeting was a repeat of every other experience I have had with TikTok. Gaslighting, obfuscation, and passionate pledges to do better and that TikTok/Bytedance was extremely concerned and absolutely working 24/7 to fix these problems. I sat in stunned silence. I couldn’t believe my ears. Nothing I had ever said to them, nor the evidence gathered, had made any difference. It was the same response as always. It was then that I realized that it was useless. TikTok/Bytedance seems to provide its reps with some kind of script that conflicts with the actual actions of the company, which are opaque and secretive even to the content creators who supply TikTok with what it needs to exist - content. 


The door slam was when, on November 23rd, using a private TikTok account, I reported a video posted from an account with 50K followers. In the video, a young American woman (or so it would seem) wearing a hijab uses a method that came about in 2018, which is meant to get around reporting. She says one thing but holds cards that say something else. She says that she is giving us beauty advice but holds cards claiming that Israel has a “skin bank” and is stealing the skin of Palestinians—blood libel. The video had over 228K views and thousands of comments.  The comments boosted the content, and I believe they were bot-generated because they were nonsensical. Every comment is an engagement, and engagement means upping the appearance of the video in the algorithm.


I reported the video. Twenty minutes later, the report came back as “no violation.” That means that the automated moderation system could not identify the words written on the cards. At about 10 in the morning, that day, the 23rd of November, I contacted TikTok Israel immediately by Whatsapp and told them of the video. I got a few text messages that day saying they would look into it. The video remained on TikTok for 24 hours before the account was banned. Today, the account @clarkunleashed is back. 


What struck me about this incident (among other things) is that if I can get verified simply by asking – within minutes – why did it take over 24 hours for this video and account to get banned? The video was peddling blood libel during a time when not only Israel is at war, but antisemitism is soaring higher than it was in the 1930s. It is only a matter of time before real-world consequences take place. One could go so far as to say those consequences are already happening. 


I do not believe this points to ill will on the part of the TikTok Israel reps – I think they could not escalate the problem quickly. Who knows why? Paperwork? Red tape? But here’s the thing. I and many others have been alerting TikTok for years now that their reporting system is broken and that mass reporting and targeting of Jewish (and other) creators is silencing their voices coming from both directions: Jewish creators receiving hate comments or reporting hateful content and the content staying up, and Jewish creators having their own accounts targeted with videos about Rosh Hashana being removed for violating community guidelines. 


There seems to be a culture within Bytedance of contradiction and obfuscation. The company's public-facing stance is one of great concern. But behind the scenes, no individual can tell you what is happening at TikTok. Bytedance has been made aware, through multiple channels, that there was a serious problem but chose to ignore it for years. A group of TikTok creators, mainly in the LGBTQIA community, formed a group on Telegram where they also documented these issues. The group still exists but gradually withered for the same reason; it didn't make a difference how many receipts they gathered. 


I have spoken to other "big" creators who were invited to "roundtable" discussions hosted by TikTok USA in the winter of 2022. These roundtables were established for the African American, Indigenous, Latino, and Educational creators. There was no group set up for Jewish creators. These monthly Zooms started as opportunities for creators to discuss what they encountered vis Bytedance reporting. However, they quickly became sessions where the TikTok reps encouraged the participants to make better, more creative content. These groups were summarily disbanded a few months later. Interestingly, these outreach groups were established during a time that roughly correlates with scrutiny of and potential legislation against Bytedance in Washington, DC. These dots may or may not connect; I cannot assert that there is a connection with any certainty.  I am in email contact with a creator who participated in one of these groups. 


Then October 7th came. The platform was inundated with bad actors, bot attacks, and haters. For Jewish creators like me to then be given the same speech from TikTok that I have been hearing for three years was unconscionable. I have not yet seen evidence that TikTok/Bytedance is actively participating in disseminating fake news and hate, but I have seen evidence that TikTok/Bytedance, having been alerted to this for years, has taken no action. And here we are today.


 I uploaded all of the Holocaust and antisemitism content Gidon, and I created for over three years and am creating a YouTube channel for this invaluable material to be available to educators for discussion points.  I will not allow this material to disappear from the public square. It is needed now more than ever. However, TikTok's "trust and safety" functionality is profoundly broken - if it was ever there in the first place, beyond lip service. 

How Bad is Online Antisemitism? It's Increasingly Hard to Know (NYT, Nov. 13th 2023)

Holocaust Survivor Quits TikTok, Cites Failure to Confront Antisemitism (Times of Israel, Nov. 20th 2023)

Podcast: Omer Benjacob: cyber and tech correspondent (Haaretz, Nov. 20, 2023)

Russian Op Pushes Gaza Disinfo (Haaretz, Nov. 20, 2023) 

bottom of page