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Updated Dec 7, 2023, 8:47pm EST
techNorth America

Is TikTok driving antisemitism? Firm that ran viral survey didn’t reach that conclusion

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Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto
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The News

New Republican claims that TikTok causes antisemitism aren’t fully supported by the survey on which they have been based.

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and the GOP-led U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party have all referred this week to a graphic shared by a statistician and tech executive, Anthony Goldbloom, who commissioned the survey from Generation Lab, a research company that studies the views of young people.

“For every 30 minutes that someone watches TikTok every day they become 17% more antisemitic, more pro-Hamas, based on doing that,” Haley said during Wednesday’s Republican primary debate.

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Her claim appeared to be based on a widely-shared graphic that purports to show an association between using TikTok and holding “anti-Israel/anti-Semitic views,” compared to users of other social media platforms. (By Haley’s literal math, if someone were 10% antisemitic before downloading the app, they would become 100% antisemitic after watching TikToks for 7 1/2 hours.)

But Generation Lab told Semafor that it didn’t conduct the analysis that went viral in the last week, create the graphic, or reach the widely shared conclusion about TikTok — it only conducted the interviews and turned over the raw survey data to Goldbloom.

And that data itself does not fully support the strong claims being made about it. The suggestion, as Goldbloom posted, that “TikTok is a meaningful driver of a surge in antisemitism,” combines anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment, and assumes that TikTok is responsible for the difference in views, though the survey can only show a correlation.

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Goldbloom confirmed he did the analysis himself, by comparing how non-users of TikTok, Instagram, and the combined audience of X and Threads answered questions about Israel and Jewish people. (Goldbloom’s graphic only mentions Meta-owned Threads in a footnote, saying it was excluded from the label because its user base was lower.)

Goldbloom told Semafor that he grouped all of the questions about Israel and Jewish people because “I certainly didn’t want to cherry pick; it’s easy to create a sensational headline picking the most sensational questions. … But maybe it was a bit of a mistake to group them.”

He said that the data alone doesn’t prove that TikTok is causing its users to become antisemitic, and that his statement that TikTok is “driving” hate is based on additional context, including the popularity of pro-Palestine hashtags on TikTok.

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“I’m definitely making a claim,” he said, “There’s some leap, but I don’t think the leap is huge.”

In response to Haley’s remarks at the debate, TikTok said Thursday that she “references a limited survey (not a scientific study), then misstated the limited survey’s results. As we said, there’s no evidence to this claim.”

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Know More

Generation Lab began fielding the survey in November, asking 1,500 Americans aged 18-29 a range of questions about their social media usage and stances on various current events.

Goldbloom’s analysis compares non-users of the platforms to users, and averages their responses to 12 survey questions about Jewish people and Israel. A “user” was defined as someone who spends at least 30 minutes a day on the platform.

An analysis of the survey’s complete raw data, obtained by Semafor, also finds that when looking solely at how platform users responded, X/Threads users were more likely than TikTok users to hold the antisemitic or anti-Israel view for each individual question about either Israel or Jewish people.

For example, about 33% of X/Threads users agreed with the statement that “Jewish people have too much power in the media,” compared with 24% of TikTok users.

And 31% of X/Threads users agreed with the statement that “Jewish people talk about the Holocaust just to further their political agenda,” compared with 23% of TikTok users.

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Room for Disagreement

The fact that TikTok is run by Chinese-owned ByteDance has led to calls for it to be banned, in part over worries that China could benefit from anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments in the U.S.

“China has a role in making the whole world talk about Israel. … The argument for banning TikTok in the U.S. doesn’t rely on Chinese efforts to foment antisemitism in the U.S. but on its broader threats to national security,” Jonah Goldberg argued in The Los Angeles Times. “But the fact that a foreign power thinks it has an interest in amplifying Jew-hatred in America should inform how we think about the issue.”

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