Minisite Gear

Experience the pulse of the Americas with Minisite Gear: Your go-to destination for digital news and analysis.

Recent news

TikTok’s C.E.O. Uses Personal Touch to Address Antisemitism Concerns

Shou Chew, TikTok’s chief executive, has been getting personally involved in efforts to address concerns that the app has fueled anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, in a sign of how seriously the company is taking the criticism.

In recent weeks, Mr. Chew, who lives in Singapore, has met in New York and on video calls with numerous prominent Jewish groups and leaders.

The meetings, arranged by TikTok, have been with organizations including the American Jewish Committee, UJA-Federation of New York and the Anti-Defamation League, the groups told The New York Times. He also joined a call with dozens of Jewish tech and business leaders, including founders of Tinder and the apparel brand Bonobos, as well as Facebook’s ex-chief revenue officer.

In the meetings, Mr. Chew emphasized that he was there to listen and sought to explain how the company moderated misinformation and hate speech, according to three people who attended the meetings and would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

TikTok, like many other social networks, has been criticized since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, for spreading misinformation, graphic footage and hate speech. But TikTok has faced added scrutiny because it is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, and because it is an increasingly influential source of news for younger Americans.

Last month, lawmakers renewed their calls to ban or otherwise regulate TikTok, arguing that Beijing may be influencing the content it promotes.

“TikTok is not alone the problem within social media, but TikTok is probably the single most influential source for news for people 18 to 29,” said Eric Goldstein, chief executive of UJA-Federation of New York. “When we were offered the opportunity to sit down with the leadership of TikTok, we grabbed it because we wanted to convey the depths of the concern in this moment.”

TikTok wouldn’t confirm its involvement in the meetings or comment on the discussions. The company has pushed back on claims that it disproportionately promotes pro-Palestinian content to young Americans and said that it’s working to fight antisemitism on the app.

“This is an extremely difficult time for millions of people around the world and in our TikTok community,” said Jamie Favazza, a spokeswoman for TikTok. “We feel it’s important to meet with and listen to creators, human rights experts, civil society and other stakeholders to help guide our ongoing work to keep our global community safe.”

TikTok said that since the conflict broke out, it had hired more Arabic and Hebrew-speaking moderators and been working with Jewish and Muslim groups to better identify instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia on the platform. It said it had removed millions of videos for breaking its content rules from Oct. 7 to Nov. 17, including 5.6 million “shocking and graphic” videos, and several million tied to harassment, bullying, hate speech and hateful behavior.

The company, in its statement, pointed to a new message to users, “Rapidly Changing Events,” that now appears at the top of results for search terms like “Gaza.” It warns that related videos may be inaccurate and directs users to seek “authoritative sources” for news, linking to Reuters coverage.

Searching a hashtag like #FromTheRiverToTheSea — a pro-Palestinian slogan that has been viewed by many Americans as a call to eradicate Israel and deemed antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League — also generates a new message that urges users “to consider the power of words,” the company said. That message says “certain phrases may mean different things to different people” at this time. The moderation of #FromTheRiverToTheSea was raised by a group of Jewish creators and celebrities who met with TikTok executives last month. (Mr. Chew did not join that call.)

In one of the calls, Mr. Chew joined more than 20 Jewish business leaders, including Sean Rad, a Tinder founder; Andy Dunn, a Bonobos founder; and David Fischer, the former chief revenue officer of Facebook. The group had sent TikTok a private letter detailing their concerns about content on the platform, spearheaded by Anthony Goldbloom, a statistician and former chief executive of Kaggle, a data science company that is now part of Google.

Mr. Goldbloom, who confirmed that the meeting took place, has been posting to X about the major gap in views between pro-Palestinian hashtags and pro-Israel hashtags on TikTok, and has contended that TikTok is shaping anti-Israel views among young Americans. TikTok has said that the hashtag analyses are faulty and misleading.

Several participants said they were gratified by Mr. Chew’s personal engagement. But others said they remained frustrated with the platform and have taken their concerns to lawmakers pushing to ban TikTok, including Representative Mike Gallagher, a Republican of Wisconsin.

Mr. Gallagher and Representative Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat of New Jersey, recently said they planned to introduce legislation that would require social media companies to release detailed reports about how they handle content that violates their policies. It would also require a report from the director of national intelligence on the use of social media by terrorist groups. The men have called on the Justice Department to require TikTok to register as a “foreign agent,” accusing Beijing of influencing what teens and 20-somethings consume daily.

A group of Republican lawmakers sent a Nov. 20 letter to Mr. Chew with a similar tone. They asked him to respond to about a dozen questions by Dec. 4, including how TikTok was categorizing misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war and what “algorithmic capabilities” the platform was using to promote or suppress content tied to the conflict.

TikTok has long said that it does not allow any government to influence or change its recommendations to users.

Mr. Goldstein of UJA said that the group urged TikTok to put more resources toward fighting misinformation and blocking content with antisemitic hashtags. He said time would tell about changes to come, especially as other social media platforms grapple with similar issues.

“Our pitch was to use this as a moment of leadership in a way that will move the field and bring the others along,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Shou clearly understands the issues.”

Emma Goldberg contributed reporting.