Jewish creators of TikTok say they feel silenced by the platform

Since the beginning of May, every Friday evening, Julia Massey said that she received the same notification from TikTok: she was banned from posting for a week.

Massey, 19, from California, a Jewish creator of the app, said she could post a video of herself making a loaf of challah or a clip of her cat, but the result is still the same.

“It keeps repeating and repeating itself until I am fundamentally unable to interact with anything on the app,” she said. Massey regularly uploads videos to her account, but she said it has been a struggle to keep those videos in place.

On TikTok, Jewish creators say that talking about their Judaism comes at a price. Jewish TikTokers’ content comment sections are often filled with anti-Semitic remarks, stereotypes, and slurs. Some Jewish creators say they have to consider whether they want to disclose their Judaism on the app, knowing the harassment they are likely to be subjected to.

But recently, some Jewish creators said they believed the app was subjecting them to some sort of censorship by regularly flagging and removing their content. Nearly half a dozen Jewish creators told NBC News their videos were banned and removed for allegedly violating TikTok community guidelines for hateful behavior, crippling their ability to use the app. Most of these creators said that when they appeal their video bans or deletions, the app says the sanction was committed in error.

Types of videos whose creators said the app violated its community guidelines include TikToks debunking anti-Semitic comments, a video discussing a report on anti-Semitic violence, a video of a bat mitzvah being held for a chat and a replay of a video made by TikTok in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK.

“More recently people have been much more outspoken and comfortable expressing their anti-Semitism and have basically completely dismantled my ability to reach anyone on the Internet,” Massey said.

The Jewish creators have said they are frustrated with the moderation process which makes them feel targeted, although they don’t know exactly how or why this happens. Some, like Massey, have said they believe they are the subject of users on TikTok mass reporting their accounts. However, mass reports do not lead to any automated action from TikTok. Others, like Josh Cohen, 19, of London, said they believed they were caught in a clunky algorithm probably designed to protect Jewish creators.

TikTok moderation is done through a combination of tech and human moderators, who attempt to identify, review, and remove hateful content that violates its community’s rules.

“You will see that people are going to censor the words to try to get around this because it seems to be some kind of automatic process, to the point that I’ve seen people censor the word ‘Jew’ as ‘J-3-W’, “Cohen said.

TikTok strongly condemns anti-Semitism and has said there is no room for anti-Semitism on or outside the platform, a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement. TikTok also works with groups like the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, and the World Jewish Congress, an international federation of Jewish communities and organizations.

“We care deeply about fostering a welcoming environment and removing content that encourages hateful behavior, including anti-Semitic content,” the spokesperson said.

Jewish creators said they sometimes run into problems when responding to anti-Semitic comments on their pages. TikTok has a feature that allows users to create video responses to specific comments, and Jewish creators sometimes use it to expose anti-Semitic comments and threats on their pages.

TikTok’s policy allows users to post counter-speeches, but Jewish creators have said that when they post counter-speech videos in response to those comments, they are frequently removed for violating community rules. In some cases, the original offending comment remains active.

“Normally the videos I can almost always count on to be deleted are the ones where I respond to comments I receive that will say terrible things like, ‘Why do Jews always look like rats? “, Massey said.

Tommer, 32, and Yossi, 26, who manage the @JewCrazy account and have requested to be identified only by first name to protect their safety, said they suffered nine app bans in two weeks, as of the at the end of May. at the beginning of June.

The brothers-in-law have tried to take precautions against triggering a ban on their account, where they post comedy videos “with a Jewish twist,” which includes staying away from posting political videos and restrict the words that commenters are allowed to use on their page. TikTok has no policy prohibiting discussing the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

The first time they received a ban in mid-May, they were stunned. Then it happened again.

“We have another ban, like, OK, what’s going on? And then another ban. We had four bans in a few days and we hadn’t done anything, ”Yossi said.

They said they contacted an email from TikTok community manager, and ultimately the ban was lifted and their account restored. Within minutes of posting their next video, they were banned again.

“We’re here to create inclusive content. … Don’t forbid us to be Jews, ”Yossi said.

Michael, 28, who goes by @Oochdawg on the app and asked to be identified only by his first name to protect his safety, said, like Tommer and Yossi, that he avoids mentioning the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians or discuss politics on his page.

Since the end of May, he has said he has been banned at least twice for allegedly breaking community rules, but has never been specifically told what in his videos violated those rules.

“The comments I get and the hate I get and the bans I get are just because I’m Jewish,” Michael said. “There is no other explanation.”

The Anti-Defamation League has reported that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States, and preliminary search found an increase in incidents of anti-Semitism online and in person in the United States following the most recent fighting between Israel and Hamas. A Twitter scan between May 7 and 14 showed more than 17,000 tweets that used variations of the phrase “Hitler was right,” the group’s Center on Extremism said.

Several Jewish creators of TikTok said they too received a version of the “Hitler was right” comment on their page.

A TikTok Transparency Report released by the app in February acknowledged that “hate speech remains a challenge to be proactively detected and we continue to invest to improve ourselves.” The report says TikTok removed almost 73% of “hateful behavior videos before they were reported to us” and almost 84% were removed within 24 hours of posting.

Cohen, who was featured in a TikTok UK video for Holocaust Memorial Day, said other Jewish creators feel comfortable coming to see him when they experience a video ban or removal on the app. He said that because he has collaborated with the platform, they hope he can get them some help or, at a minimum, an explanation.

He said he receives a message from a Jewish creator facing a publication ban or restriction every two or three days.

Cohen himself experienced some quirks in the algorithm. When he tried to repost the video he appeared in for TikTok UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day viewing on his page, he said the app removed the video for violating community guidelines.

“While [the moderation] doesn’t mischievously target the Jews, they did it recklessly so that it ends up silencing us while leaving people who are blatantly anti-Semitic to roam free, ”Cohen said.

Daniel Kelley, associate director of the Center for Technology and Society of the Anti-Defamation League, said some social media platforms have sometimes used broad moderation tools in an attempt to protect marginalized groups who have turned against them by removing the content of those for which they were intended. protect.

Although the Anti-Defamation League currently has no data on the extent to which anti-Semitism is reproduced on TikTok, Kelley said TikTok is not a “bad actor platform” and does not encourage this behavior. But, he added, one person victim of anti-Semitism on the platform is too much.

“All of these platforms have massive resources that they could devote to better resolution of these issues. If we can’t get to zero, we can certainly do better than what we’re doing now, ”Kelley said.

Michael said he wanted TikTok to recognize the problem and work to find a solution so that Jewish creators can have their voices heard on the app.

“Jews don’t feel safe on TikTok,” he said. “We think it’s very toxic to us just for the same basic, fun TikToks that we release like everyone else.”

About Dawn Valle

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