Technology We’re not biased – millennials are more pro-Palestine, says...

We’re not biased – millennials are more pro-Palestine, says TikTok

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TikTok has said that younger generations are simply more likely to be pro-Palestinian as it hit back at claims from US politicians that it is “brainwashing” the youth against Israel.

The video app pointed to polling data showing that millennials in the US are significantly less sympathetic to Israel than their parents. TikTok denied that its algorithm, which chooses what videos people see, is manipulating users.

Allegations that TikTok, which is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, is boosting pro-Hamas content have renewed calls for the app to be banned.

Last week, US Congressman Mike Gallagher said TikTok was behind rising support for Hamas among young users, claiming the app was “brainwashing our youth against the country and our allies”.

Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie has said he would ban TikTok immediately, saying the app is “poisoning American minds”.

US TikTok users aged under 40 are more likely to say they are pro-Palestinian than this age group as a whole, according to polling highlighted by the app.

However, TikTok users aged under 40 are also more likely to say they are pro-Israeli, suggesting users of the app are simply more politically engaged in the conflict than the population at large. In fact, TikTok users in this age group are broadly more sympathetic to Israel on balance.

The video app also drew attention to polling showing that Twitter users under 40 are more likely to side with Palestinians than Israelis, a phenomenon not seen on TikTok.

TikTok argued that misguided perceptions of pro-Hamas bias on its platform were simply the product of growing sympathy for Palestinians among young people. It said this trend had been happening long before its app existed, citing research by Pew conducted between 2006 and 2016.

Pew found support for Palestinians among millennials rose from 9pc to 27pc over a ten-year period. At the same time, support for Israel fell from 51pc to 43pc.

Older generations were far more likely to support Israel: Pew’s polling found 61pc of Baby Boomers said they supported Israel in 2016, while 54pc of Generation X sided with Israelis.

Politicians have pointed to the overwhelming popularity of the #freepalestine hashtag compared to #standwithisrael as evidence of bias on TikTok. Three million videos feature the former, while just 39,000 the latter.

The difference was cited by US Senator Josh Hawley last week when he called for a Senate vote on banning the app.

After TikTok published the statistics, US Senator Marco Rubio accused the company of “downplaying Hamas terrorism”, adding: “Time for TikTok to go”.

Last week, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said that apps such as TikTok were “brainwashing” users. “The world we live in with [the] digital impacts of brainwashing, like TikTok and other things, does not explain to the average person the complexity of this situation,” he told Israeli broadcaster i24.

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate said that TikTok was using “cherry-picked and distortive data” and that videos with the #freepalestine hashtag had been viewed 16 times more than those with the #standwithisrael hashtag.

TikTok responded by saying that #standwithisrael videos were likely to be viewed 68pc more than those with the #freepalestine hashtag in the US. It also said that other services like Instagram and Facebook also featured far more posts with the #freepalestine hashtag than #standwithisrael.

“Blunt comparisons of hashtags is severely flawed and misrepresentative of the activity on TikTok,” it said. “It is easy to cherry pick hashtags to support a false narrative about the platform.”

It added: “Our recommendation algorithm doesn’t ‘take sides’ and has rigorous measures in place to prevent manipulation.”

The company said it had taken down more than 925,000 videos related to the Israel-Hamas conflict since the October 7 attacks.

TikTok has been scrambling to defend its reputation in the wake of the war, which has led to renewed calls for a crackdown on the app in the West.

The video sharing app has faced intense calls for a ban in the US over its links to China. TikTok has consistently denied that it is influenced by the Chinese government.

On Tuesday, Twitter, now known as X, said it had taken action on more than 325,000 tweets related to the conflict, including removing or hiding posts. The company also said it had removed 3,000 accounts, including those associated with Hamas.

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