Popular social media platform TikTok has spent the last few weeks defending itself against charges of courting anti-Semitism, including the insensitive “Holocaust challenge.” While the platform condemned that trend, Jewish TikTokers say the site is still replete with anti-Semitic content. Now, some of those users are speaking out about the anti-Semitic abuse they regularly endure on the site.
NBC News spoke to a number of Jewish TikTok users about their experiences with the platform. One of these was 18-year-old Julia Massey, whose experience with the platform was largely positive — until she started discussing her Jewish faith.
“Before I, I guess, ‘came out’ as Jewish on my TikTok, before people knew, I was getting almost all positive response,” she said. “And now, every single TikTok I’ve made since that video, I’ve received anti-Semitic comments, regardless of the content.”
Several Jewish users reportedly shared screenshots of hateful comments they had received with NBC, many of which have since been deleted. These messages included nose emojis, shower and gas pump emojis (a reference to Nazi gas chambers) and emojis imitating a Nazi salute.
However, many users reported that abusive comments are often couched in rhetoric regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. This includes repeated use of the slogan “Free Palestine,” as well as emojis of the Palestinian flag.
“It is absolutely legitimate to criticize Israel for its human rights abuses, just like it’s legitimate to criticize any other state,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs told NBC. “But when it’s somebody posting, let’s say, their bat mitzvah dress or when somebody is putting up a picture of their family’s Passover Seder or when somebody is just talking about their own Jewish pride… when the response is ‘Free Palestine,’ what the respondent is saying is, ‘your Judaism doesn’t matter at all.'”
Fifteen-year-old Olive Benito said she has received such comments on her TikTok content. When she tried to reach out to one of the commenters in good faith, they continued to use anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“They couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that I am unrelated to the conflict,” she said. “Like, they kept saying over and over, ‘You’re stealing my land and hurting my people, and you deserve to get those comments, because you’re a land stealer, because you’re a war criminal.’ I just couldn’t get them to understand or explain to them that’s just not the case.”
Of course, one of the most popular forms of anti-Semitism on the platform is Holocaust denial. According to the recent U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, 49% of respondents say they had seen “Holocaust denial or distortion” on social media sites like TikTok.
Some Jewish TikTokers agree that anti-Semitism has made the internet as a whole a less inviting place for their faith.
“It can often make me think twice before I post something, even it it’s irrelevant to Israel,” said 18-year-old Josh Cohen, who posts often about Judaism. “I’d love to make what I do into something bigger… but if I make it bigger, having posts bombarded in this way — if I had a post that did particularly well, would it also have comments with kind of stuff? It can make you think twice before you post this stuff, and it can sometimes get to you a bit.”
A TikTok spokesperson assured NBC that the platform takes a strong stance against all hate, including anti-Semitism.
“TikTok stands firmly against anti-Semitism and doesn’t tolerate hate in any form,” they said in an email to the outlet. “We take strong action against hate groups and ideologies by banning accounts and removing content, including those which deny the Holocaust or other violent tragedies. Our team is fully committed to fostering a community where everyone feels welcome and safe to create.”