TikTok Under Fire

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Last week, in response to mounting national security concerns stemming from China’s involvement in ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, the leadership of the House’s Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Chair Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and ranking member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) introduced a bill to force ByteDance to divest its ownership of TikTok within 165 days.

The bipartisan bill also gives the president authority to target other social media applications that are determined to be controlled by a foreign adversary.
The bill is known as the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. It would force the sale of TikTok to an American company within six months or be banned entirely. Early opposition to the bill is reportedly coming from TikTok itself and, among others, from hedge fund manager Jeff Yass — a Republican megadonor — whose fund has a $33 billion stake in the Chinese parent company ByteDance.

In addition to White House approval and bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats, the bill (HR 7521) is supported by a wide array of organizations that have concerns about the pervasive influence of TikTok and other social media behemoths and the need for a higher degree of regulation over social media content.

The focus of HR 7521 is on national security. It is about companies owned by foreign adversaries that promote a political or social agenda through their social media platforms and seek to influence the thinking and actions of unsuspecting users.

More than half of all adults get their news from social media. An even higher percentage of young people get their news from TikTok. With that exposure, the content TikTok and other social media platforms choose to publish has a major impact on public opinion. HR 7521 recognizes the significance of a foreign adversary’s control over that content and is designed to change the balance.

Among the organizations supporting the bill is Jewish Federations of North America through a campaign entitled “TikTok — Time’s Up.” JFNA’s focus is on the documented history of antisemitic and anti-Israel content on TikTok and the need to effect change.

According to JFNA, “TikTok has an antisemitism problem. One study found that people who use TikTok for 30 minutes or more daily are 17% more likely to hold antisemitic or anti-Israel views, compared with 6% for Instagram and 2% for X. Another study found that in just one year, antisemitic comments on TikTok rose 912%.” And, since Oct. 7, JFNA reports that TikTok’s algorithm gave videos with pro-Palestinian hashtags 15 times more views than videos with pro-Israel hashtags.

We join in support of the bipartisan HR 7521 bill and support the same communal safety against bias, hate and intolerance on social media as we do in our local institutions, houses of worship and schools.

The goal here is not to stifle speech or to force pro-Jewish or pro-Israel content on TikTok or anywhere else. Instead, we support the promotion of a level social media playing field with neutral posting algorithms.

TikTok and its Chinese parent have ignored reasonable content moderation; have promoted antisemitic and anti-Israel content and advocacy; and deserve to be stripped of their corrosive power in our communities.

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