Israel-Gaza War Reignites TikTok Ban Campaign

Israel-Gaza War Reignites TikTok Ban Campaign
Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib via Shutterstock

The Lede: TikTok has faced a new wave of criticism this week with U.S. lawmakers calling for bans due to allegedly pro-Palestinian content being prioritized on the popular platform’s algorithm amid the Israel-Hamas war. This comes on the heels of warnings by members of Congress in recent years that TikTok is used by China for spying and to exert influence.  

What We Know:

  • Lawmakers have been renewing their efforts to ban TikTok this week on the basis of suspicions that the According to a post on X by Jeff Morris Jr., a former executive at Tinder, TikTok videos with the hashtag #standwithpalestine had 2.9 billion views, while #standwithisrael videos had about 200 million views over the past three years. On TikTok in the U.S. there have been about 8,000 posts using #standwithPalestine in the past two weeks compared to 3,000 posts supporting Israel.
  • TikTok data from the past 30 days, which encompasses the period since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, that showed that #standwithisrael videos have been viewed 46 million times in the U.S., compared with 29 million views for #standwithpalestine. Meanwhile, videos with #freepalestine reached 770 million views over the past 30 days worldwide. The TikTok data shows that the hashtags also include videos critical of Hamas and are shown in Muslim countries. 

The Background: TikTok, like other social media platforms, bans videos or comments that promote Hamas in line with rules against extremist groups. The company insists that it does not influence views on the platform based on the interests of the Chinese government. There have been many efforts in the U.S. government to curb TikTok due to concerns surrounding its Chinese origins. Then-President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok by executive order in 2020 but the effort failed in court. The Biden administration also has considered a ban of the platform for national security reasons while a vocal group of members of Congress have echoed the sentiment. The U.S. has been pressing for a stronger stance from China regarding the Israel-Hamas war as Beijing has not condemned Hamas and anti-Israel sentiments are appearing on Chinese social media. 

Likely Outcomes:

  • Pro-Palestinian sentiments on the app may be a reflection of a generational divide over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Data about TikTok regarding the topic do not show a decisive skew, especially not an intentional one. While this could be a design to mask a central plan from TikTok to push a particular narrative on the topic, this is probably less likely than U.S. lawmakers and other opponents are suggesting. 
  • Without direct implications against TikTok or China regarding content involving the Israel-Hamas war, this will likely not be the basis for significant policy changes regarding the platform. However, if the accusations prove to be convincing to public sentiments, the topic may linger on in the U.S. and potentially factor into the future handling of TikTok. 


“It would not be surprising that the Chinese-owned TikTok is pushing pro-Hamas content. The CCP benefits by destabilizing the Middle East and pushing the United States to put more manpower back into the region. The United States needs to ban this app that steals and spies on American users.” - Marsha Blackburn, Republican Senator from Tennessee 

“For quite some time, I have been warning that Communist China is capable of using TikTok’s algorithm to manipulate and influence Americans. We’ve seen TikTok used to downplay the Uyghur genocide, the status of Taiwan, and now Hamas terrorism.” Marco Rubio, Republican Senator from Florida and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee

“TikTok has plenty of issues due to their relationship with the Chinese government, but allowing speech about Palestinian human rights is not one of those problems. Certain political voices love free speech and hate cancel-culture, until they hear speech that they don’t like and want to cancel speech that they don’t like — especially when that speech is about Palestinian human rights.” - Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

Good Reads:

Israel-Gaza war sparks debate over TikTok’s role in setting public opinion (WP)

Critics renew calls for a TikTok ban, claiming platform has an anti-Israel bias (CNBC)