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TAKING A STAND

TikTok’s top government affairs staffer in Israel quits over antisemitism on platform

Former Naftali Bennett adviser Barak Herscowitz told TikTok management they were allowing 'hostile propaganda against Israel and Jews' to proliferate on the platform

POLAND - 2024/01/25: In this photo illustration a TikTok logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Barak Herscowitz, TikTok’s leading government relations figure in Israel, resigned amid criticism of the Chinese-owned video app for allowing anti-Israel and antisemitic content to proliferate on its platform.

Herscowitz, a former adviser to then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett whose title at TikTok was vertical lead in the government and public sector, was behind an internal memo highlighting the platform’s discrimination against Israelis last year, according to a source at TikTok.

“I resigned from TikTok,” he wrote, announcing his resignation via X (formerly Twitter) on Monday. “We are living in a time in which our existence as Jews and Israelis is under attack and in danger.”

“In such an unstable era, people’s priorities become sharper. Am Yisrael Chai,” he added, with an Israeli flag and flexing muscle emojis.

Asked on X if he could have stayed to try to influence TikTok from the inside, Herscowitz responded: “I did my best as long as I was there. There are wonderful people at TikTok Israel who are doing their best.”

Herscowitz declined to comment further to Jewish Insider at this time.

A TikTok source said that Herscowitz was the senior employee in Israel who wrote a memo to higher management highlighting discrimination against Israeli hostages. TikTok declined to allow the families of the hostages to advertise on the platform, calling their videos “too political,” while allowing pro-Palestinian groups to advertise. 

“Labeling kidnapped babies, women, children, and elderly citizens who were taken from their beds by Hamas-ISIS as a ‘political issue’ is, at the very least, one-sided,” Herscowitz wrote. “This way, American users are BOMBARDED with paid ads that present the misery of children in Gaza (not mentioning, of course, the massive humanitarian aid entering Gaza and stolen by Hamas as indicated by the U.N.), some with a high budget (according to our own company’s top ads creative center) while ads that show the humanitarian tragedy of Israeli hostages cannot be presented to these audiences.”

In addition, Herscowitz wrote at the time that the company has a biased approach to violent content and anti-Israel incitement that violates the company’s community guidelines. He highlighted content moderators in TikTok’s Trust and Safety Unit who expressed “support for terrorism or endorsed extremist movements…[which] very likely influences the amount of hostile propaganda against Israel and Jews and harmful misinformation on our platform, both in the USA and Europe.” 

Michael Eisenberg, general partner at the venture capital fund Aleph, wrote that “my man Barak resigned from TikTok because his conscience could not let him work there anymore…TikTok is an existential risk to Israel and the USA.”

Eisenberg also called on workers on TikTok to “follow Barak’s lead and resign.” 

Research by Generation Lab indicates that people who use TikTok for 30 minutes or more are 17% more likely to have antisemitic or anti-Israel views. In addition, 11 pro-Palestinian hashtags were viewed more – in some cases, several times more – than the top pro-Israel hashtag, #standwithisrael. 

The Network Contagion Research Institute found that hashtags that go against the Chinese Communist Party’s positions, such as those supporting Israel since Oct. 7, are viewed far less than they are on other platforms, indicating “a strong possibility that content on TikTok is either amplified or suppressed based on its alignment with the interests of the Chinese Government.” 

Jewish employees showed JI screenshots indicating that TikTok is allowing hatred of Jews and anti-Israel disinformation violating the platform’s guidelines to remain, and that moderators even celebrated and shared violent pro-Palestinian content.

TikTok told JI earlier this month that its “community guidelines apply equally to all content on TikTok and we invest heavily in training our moderators to apply our policies consistently…We regularly report on our actions to counter hate, and of the content we removed for hate speech and hateful behavior, nine times out of ten we remove it before it’s reported.”

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