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Op-Ed: Is TikTok harming our democracy?

Updated: Feb 7

Some politicians support the idea of censoring TikTok in light of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, citing TikTok’s “biased media coverage." Is the idea of a TikTok ban a reasonable debate? Will banning TikTok prevent biased viewpoints of current news? 


Img source: Shutterstock

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


January 24, 2024


By Farabi Milisha



New York -- Since December 2023, a call has risen among prominent right-wing politicians to ban TikTok in the U.S. due to its effects on teens' news consumption. TikTok is a video-sharing app that utilizes creative features such as filters, voiceovers, and sound effects. Since its conception in 2016, the app has been recognized for its addictive nature, its content sparking popular trends and high levels of participation from young audiences. Teens have lauded TikTok as an environment for self-expression and a platform to raise awareness about current events and political issues. Thus, is it wise to ban TikTok? In doing so, could we be removing an important platform where young people can express themselves, build connections, and foster a community?   


On the Oct. 8, 2023 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of war with Hamas, a military group based in Palestine. More than 11,000 Palestinians that are located in the region of Gaza have since been killed by the Israeli military and 1.6 million have been displaced, according to the United Nations. Approximately 1,200 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, according to AP News. The conflict has sparked partisanship in the United States, creating schisms between political groups that are often facilitated by online forums. This has caused politicians and technologists to question whether or not TikTok promotes biases in users due to its often-factually unreliable news content.  


During the Republican Presidential Debate on December 6th, 2023, Nikki Haley, a GOP candidate, stated that TikTok should be banned because “for every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok, every day, they become 17% more antisemitic [and] more pro-Hamas.” However, some viewers became confused by this statistic, rebutting Haley's argument and sparking debate in online forums. Podcaster Matt Walsh called it “The fakest statistic I’ve ever heard in my life." In addition to Elon Musk posted the statement “Good grief” on X later that night. 


TikTok issued an official statement on Dec. 6 establishing Haley's claims as “100% false.” However, even if Haley cherry-picked data in order to support her claim, this is not the first time TikTok has been attacked politically. 


In 2020, Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok on the basis of allegations that Chinese authorities are able to access U.S. user data through the app. However, officials stated that TikTok never attempted to gain access to American information. Trump's attempt to ban the app was subsequently blocked by two federal courts. In 2023, the Biden administration attempted to take authority over TikTok out of the hands of a Chinese company, but failed to do so.  


Public opinion experts have suggested that there can be many factors that influence an individual's opinion on the Israel-Palestine dispute. For instance, images of displaced, injured Palestinians, statistics, and statements about the conflict that circulate online are influential in determining social media users' perceptions of the issue. However, many advocates voice their opinions based on their family or personal ties to one group. Thomas Zeitzoff, an associate professor at American University, stated that people who are pro-Palestine tend to use TikTok as a rallying point and meeting space, rather than becoming influenced by content on the app.


Sonia Liu, a student at Bard High School Early College Queens, says that “TikTok and social media not only serve as a place to expose what really happens in Palestine, but it also sheds light onto what these people in power are doing. For politicians to say that TikTok is contributing to anti-Semitism is justification for them to remove something that exposes the reality of what they’re doing."


Many individuals now believe that it is not wise to censor TikTok because it is one of the few apps that has minimal censorship within its algorithm. Even though TikTok has proven to be addictive to young people, it is a platform that many benefit from as a place for self-expressive, creative, and diverse content.


Fabiha Khanam, the director of the Media Relations team at Teens for Press Freedom, states that “This is another case of media censorship. Although TikTok is not perfect, the app is run by people, which creates real conversations and discussions. By banning an app that spreads information, you are taking away people's right to freedom of speech. When there is a conflict as controversial as Israel-Palestine, it is crucial to have opinions and data from both sides. It is crucial to have the right to free speech. ”



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