Business Essentials for Professionals


Better 'Genuine' Content Or Slick Videos? The Ongoing Israel-Gaza Conflicts On X And TikTok

Better 'Genuine' Content Or Slick Videos? The Ongoing Israel-Gaza Conflicts On X And TikTok
Old or young. X or TikTok. pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel. You are the only one on your social media feeds. Are they influencing your perception of the Israel-Gaza conflict?
Two videos play one after the other when I open my TikTok feed. The first features four Israeli soldiers dancing while brandishing firearms under a clear blue sky. The other features a caption that is overtly pro-Palestinian and features a young woman speaking from her bedroom.
Based on which of the two videos users watch through to the finish, TikTok's algorithm will decide what kind of videos the viewer wants to see and suggest related content.
Similar algorithms apply to other social media platforms as well, which implies that some users are being directed towards content regarding Israel and Gaza that exacerbates their preexisting biases and divides opinions.
It matters because social media conversations have the power to influence public opinion and normalise language that is used offline, at protests, and in other settings.
This includes the UK, where a large number of people who would not typically be politically involved seem to have been inspired to take action by social media.
Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat MP with Palestinian mother, tells me that she and other politicians are getting a "huge influx" of messages calling for a ceasefire, even from young people.
It appears that "TikTok videos and Instagram reels shared around over WhatsApp" are what spurred them into action.
"Anything that is too slick, their initial instinct seems to be - don't trust it. They expect it to be disinformation," the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon says.
The vice-chair of the Conservative Friends of Israel group, Conservative MP Andrew Percy, claims that compared to other subjects, the war has "garnered less engagement and communication from residents" in his constituency.
"Much of the content being shared is problematically antisemitic. That's been a real problem long before this conflict - and this time, social media has made that happen at speed," he however says.
What, then, is becoming the most popular on TikTok, and who is using it?
Audience Videos that are unmistakably pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli are frequently posted on TikTok, with critics from both camps frequently praising one another's work. Moreover, Gen Z users—those born between 1997 and 2021—seem to be more drawn to pro-Palestinian content.
Films posted on TikTok with the hashtag "istandwithisrael" have had over 240 million views, while films with the word "istandwithpalestine" have received over 870 million views. That is comparable to other popular video-based websites among younger users.
While some of these videos are older, many have been uploaded since October 7, when Hamas, which the UK and other governments have designated as a terrorist organisation, attacked Israel.
There is a clear difference in the appearance of the most widely shared content that supports each position.
Younger users respond most favourably, for instance, to videos of bloggers who are on the ground in Gaza and pro-Palestinian users who are commenting on the Israel-Gaza conflict from the comfort of their own bedrooms.
Israeli Defence Forces soldiers' content, on the other hand, seems more carefully thought out and polished, as if they are attempting to capitalise on popular TikTok trends.
The extent to which Hamas, the organisation in charge of Gaza, or the Israeli government promotes or controls unofficial content is still up for debate.
In an effort to learn more, the BBC tracked down a number of TikTok users, including Daniel, an Israeli soldier. His most popular video, which has received 2.1 million views, features him and three other active-duty soldiers dancing while brandishing firearms a few days after the October 7 assaults.
His films have since received over 10,000 views each, although not quite as many as the first two million.
Anticipating when a video on TikTok will become popular might be difficult.
A constant decline in views may be a sign that people are not finding these videos as engaging as they once were, particularly in light of the violence in Gaza. Consequently, these videos may not be suggested as frequently.
It's important to note that a large quantity of views does not always translate into a favourable response. Videos can be extensively discussed and critiqued. On TikTok, users frequently "stitch" posts, which involve reposting a video coupled with a selfie of them responding to it.
The BBC noticed that some of Daniel's content was exhibiting this. Some suggested Daniel's dance videos were insulting to the civilians being killed in Gaza, both in comments underneath Daniel's posts and in re-posted "stitches". "Shameless" was the comment made by one person, while another said: "The more you show your cruelty in the eyes of the world."
According to Daniel, there have been two groups of people responding to his content: "supportive users" and others who spread hate and occasionally antisemitic remarks. Abusive comments from pro-Hamas accounts falsely stating that the captives captured on October 7th were paid actors or executed by Israeli forces have been posted on his videos and other posts about Israel.
"I am not taking personally the hate reactions because, first of all, I did nothing wrong, [and] second, people around the world are so dedicated to hate Israel so it doesn't matter what [is] in my content," Daniel explained.
Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen charged that TikTok was "creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis" during a recent meeting with the company's executives. Not all Jewish celebrities have voiced worries following the October 7 attacks, including him.
In a recent blog post, TikTok said: "Our recommendation algorithm doesn't 'take sides' and has rigorous measures in place to prevent manipulation."
The social media giant also informed us that, between October 7 and November 17, it had taken down over 1.1 million videos from the conflict area for violating its policies. These films included propaganda for Hamas, hate speech, terrorism, and false information.
"Content that promotes Islamophobia or antisemitism" is forbidden by its community guidelines, and TikTok claims to take action against it.
Upon examining pro-Palestinian content, the BBC noticed that many artists' videos had a distinct aesthetic.
Talking directly into the camera in her bedroom, Ariana frequently posts videos about the battle from her US residence. She shares her thoughts on celebrity posts about war or on photos that emerge from Gaza.
"When I first started posting about Palestine [after 7 October], my views decreased. I lost a lot of followers," Ariana explained to me, describing criticism from users supportive of Israel.
However, in the weeks that followed, she started to have more interactions on TikTok when she started sharing more content that she perceived to be Israeli propaganda.
"People started discovering me and so the numbers started shooting up," she says.
She claims that, overall, she has been "getting a lot of support" on the internet, particularly from those who "didn't feel like they could trust traditional media."
However, she has also seen hate speech directed towards Muslims on Instagram and other social media sites in addition to TikTok.
Daniel and Ariana both state that no political figures or other organisations have endorsed their work.
It's easier to see how more extreme ideas can begin to gain traction when consumers are exposed to an increasing amount of content that supports a specific narrative.
Recently, on TikTok, a number of Gen Z users started endorsing Osama Bin Laden's 2002 "Letter to America"—a letter he authored to justify the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans.
These comments essentially provided an alternative viewpoint on US involvement in Middle East wars, while also implying that Bin Laden's opinion was not without merit.
However, they made no mention of the homophobic and antisemitic language in the original letter.
TikTok reported that while there weren't many videos made regarding the letter, interest in them increased after they were uploaded to X, the defunct Twitter platform. Since then, TikTok has prevented "Letter to America" from appearing in its search results and erased videos.
On X, things are not the same.
On more established platforms, such as X, the situation is different.
It has been alleged that the site facilitates the dissemination of hateful, violent, and deceptive content. Elon Musk, the site's relatively recent owner, has also come under fire for his comments on postings endorsing antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Since then, Musk has reaffirmed that he is not antisemitic, and the social media giant has defended how it handles offensive material.
However, unlike TikTok, X has historically been a well-liked platform among journalists and politicians. It seems that material that supports Israel continues to have a considerable impact in this community.
According to X's own data, the carefully chosen information that the State of Israel's account shared appears to have received a significant amount of views, including moving films about hostages kidnapped by Hamas. For instance, the official account received almost 40 million views on X between November 16 and November 21.
By contrast, the official X account of the Palestinian delegation to the UN has significantly fewer followers and has only received slightly over 200,000 views on its own postings during the same time frame.
Additionally, the BBC has proof that official X accounts had also been disseminating false information.
The baseless allegations that the corpse of a four-year-old Palestinian boy killed by Israeli strikes was only a doll were posted by the State of Israel in October.
Regarding these social media messages and the circumstances surrounding the child's death, an Israeli embassy representative in the UK refrained from making direct comments.
Accounts endorsing Hamas have likewise propagated falsehoods. However, these lies appear to have spread more widely online in the lack of legitimate accounts with sizable followings.
Consider remarks implying that a separate four-year-old Israeli child was a "paid actor" and that he was murdered when Hamas struck his home.
Next is Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram. It has been under fire for allegedly moderating war-related information too harshly.
For instance, Instagram stopped the @eye.on.Palestine account, which has over six million followers and posts pictures and videos of atrocities against people in Gaza during Israeli attacks, for a few days.
Subsequently, Meta stated that this was done for "security reasons after signs of compromise".
A number of Instagram users who share content that is pro-Palestine have also shared screenshots of instances in which they claim their accounts have been blocked from commenting on posts, for example, without providing a clear explanation for the restriction.

Christopher J. Mitchell

Markets | Companies | M&A | Innovation | People | Management | Lifestyle | World | Misc