Josh Hawley Says TikTok Should Be Banned For Allegedly Promoting Anti-Israel Content

The Republican senator said the Israel-Hamas war is a “crucial test case” of the platform’s ability “to distort the world-picture” for young Americans.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Tuesday pressed the Biden administration to ban TikTok and other applications owned by Chinese giant ByteDance, claiming the popular platform promotes anti-Israel content to further China’s foreign policy interests.

Earlier this year, U.S. lawmakers, including Hawley, urged the White House to take action on TikTok over national security concerns, given that Chinese companies are required to disclose data to the Chinese Community Party upon request.

“While data security issues are paramount, less often discussed is TikTok’s power to radically distort the world-picture that America’s young people encounter,” Hawley wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who chairs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. Hawley’s correspondence was first reported by NBC News.

Hawley said the Israel-Hamas war taking place in the Middle East is a “crucial test case” of “TikTok’s power to radically distort the world-picture” for young Americans.

The Missouri senator cited a tweet by Jeff Morris Jr., a managing partner at Chapter One venture firm, who claimed the TikTok algorithm was “anti-Israel” and “the reason we’re losing the information war with high school & college students.”

A spokesperson for TikTok disputed the suggestion that TikTok prioritizes anti-Israel content in a statement to HuffPost.

“The content on TikTok is generated by our community, and recommendations are based on content-neutral signals from users, and nothing more,” they said.

In his letter, Hawley said the pro-Palestine views allegedly held by a majority of young Americans “aligns with the Chinese government’s foreign policy preferences.”

The Republican senator also referenced findings of a 2019 report by experts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre that showed ByteDance, and other Chinese companies were involved in the censuring of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

“It appears that ByteDance is once again up to its old tricks — as innocent Israelis suffer and die,” he wrote.

An NBC News review found that “ultimately, the perceived performance of pro-Palestinian content on the platform depends on how you parse TikTok’s data.”

Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel last month killed over 1,400 people, with 240 people still being held hostage by the Palestinian militants.

Israel responded swiftly by imposing a siege on Gaza and relentlessly striking the territory. The country now says its forces are fighting Palestinian militants in Gaza City, according to The Associated Press. Over 10,300 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

China has so far walked a fine line in its response to the Middle East conflict as it maintains a relationship with Israel but also has historically supported the Palestinians and backed a two-state solution.

Beijing failed to condemn Hamas following the Oct. 7 massacre but later said all countries, including Israel, have a right to self-defense, according to the BBC. Still, it has condemned Israel’s offensive in Gaza, saying it went “beyond the scope of self-defence.” Chinese President Xi Jinping has also called for a cease-fire.

Hawley said the only way forward is to ban all apps owned by ByteDance in the U.S.

“The longer this app is allowed to operate in the U.S., the longer its Chinese Communist Party overseers will apparently be able to propagandize Americans,” he said.

CFIUS had reportedly, earlier this year, called on ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok or risk getting banned in the U.S.

In September, though, the Washington Post reported negotiations between the committee and ByteDance had resumed over the platform’s future in the country, but it’s unclear if the two sides are close to an agreement.

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