More than a dozen Jewish social media influencers and celebrities spoke to TikTok executives, in a sometimes passionate and emotional 90-minute video call concerning the app’s failure to put a lid on antisemitic hate posts.
Celebrities, including Debra Messing, Sacha Baron Cohen and Amy Schumer told the executives—headed by Adam Presser, TikTok’s head of operation and Seth Melnick, its global head of user operations—that the platform was not doing enough to stem a tide of hate that had made it “not safe for Jewish users,” according to an open letter signed by Schumer, Messing and other Jewish celebrities and influencers.
Comments such as “Hitler was right” or “I hope you end up like Anne Frank” were permitted to remain as comments under videos posted by Jewish users.
Miriam Ezagui—a Jewish TikTok influencer with 1.9 million followers—said that editing tools on the site were being used—with no accountability—to twist her words on a video, resulting in a stream of hate messages.
One dog whistle used to promote hate is the slogan “from the river to the sea” which has been characterized as antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a call for the eradication of Israel. The phrase has appeared as responses and messages to Jewish TikTok users, no matter what they post.
Presser, in the app’s defense said the phrase was a matter of interpretation. “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 told the group. “Our approach up until October 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.”
Reacting to Presser’s use of the word, “casually,” Ms. Messing urged him to change his attitude. “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,’” she said. “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.”
Several creators complained of being unable to get help from TikTok, one saying that it took the platform three to five days to respond when she reported harassment.
After the October 7 Hamas attacks hate speech soared on social media. According to the ADL, antisemitic content spiked more than 919 percent on X and 28 percent on Facebook. TikTok in particular has been in the spotlight. Several lawmakers have recommenced calls to ban the platform—which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance—suspecting that Beijing may be influencing what content is promoted through its algorithms to its 150 million American users.
Of the algorithm, Sacha Baron Cohen told Presser, who is Jewish, that the TikTok could “flip a switch” to curb the antisemitic hate, adding, “Shame on you.”
“What is happening at TikTok is it is creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis,” Cohen said. “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 accused TikTok of doing the same by allowing violent images and falsehoods on their platform.
“Obviously a lot of what Sacha says, there’s truth to that,” Mr. Presser responded, acknowledging that social media companies need to take more action. He later said there was no “magic button” to address all the concerns raised.
The letter earlier sent and signed by a host of Jewish celebrities and influencers called for TikTok to moderate fairly, upgrade its safety tools, prioritize factual and objective material in times of heightened tension and crisis, and to respond promptly to physical threats.
“Simply put, TikTok lacks critical safety features to protect Jewish content creators and the broader Jewish TikTok community, leaving us in digital and physical danger,” the letter says. “This hate and vitriol is not rare, spontaneous or unexpected. Sadly, rampant antisemitism is a common problem that TikTok has failed to address for far too long.”
Presser and Melnick said that, while initially there were content managers for each creator, as the company mushroomed it became more difficult to maintain that balance. Presser said that TikTok is trying to reorganize to get more support for their larger accounts.
“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,” he said.