Researchers call out TikTok for removing feature that counts views for Gaza war videos
Social media platform TikTok no longer displays how many times videos with a specific hashtag have been viewed, following research on the viewership gap between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian videos since Israel began its war on Gaza.
Researchers had previously pointed out that there is a stark difference in viewership for pro-Palestine related videos and those that are pro-Israel, according to a report in The Washington Post on Thursday.
In an earlier report by the US newspaper, videos implementing hashtags such as "#standwithpalestine" were shown to have grossed over 2.9 billion views altogether, while "#standwithisrael" videos had only around 200 million.
Another famous pro-Palestine hashtag, "#freepalestine", garnered 770 million views for videos in the US alone. The hashtag is also highly used in Arab and Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.
US advocacy group The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) first broke the news on Wednesday, stating that TikTok had taken "a step back on transparency."
The group went on to add that the newly disabled feature would potentially make it harder for "researchers to scrutinize the scale of user exposure to harmful content."
CCDH argued that the feature aided in overseeing hashtags that exposed alleged cases of anti-Jewish hate, eating disorders and harmful steroids.
TikTok has since confirmed that the change was made last month, but the social media company initially made the change without any announcement or comment.
TikTok removing view counts for hashtags is a step backward from the transparency the company claimed it promotes before the Senate last week. @CCDHate is right that this is a “step back for transparency.”https://t.co/UfmqUFCbMC— Zamaan Qureshi (@zamaan_qureshi) February 8, 2024
A spokesperson for the company said that they are “continually evolving the TikTok platform and displaying hashtag metrics by number of posts brings us in line with industry standards.”
A previous report by The New Arab also detailed the rise in Israeli military TikTok content since the war on Gaza began.
Activists and rights groups emphasised that the incidents Israeli forces were seen capturing on camera and posting online are war crimes under international law.
“Platforms have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their users,” Marwa Fatafta, MENA policy and advocacy director at digital rights organisation Access Now, told The New Arab’s Jessica Buxbaum.
“I do not understand how this type of content would make users feel safe.”
TikTok’s community guidelines have only stated that they “do not allow any violent threats, incitement to violence, or promotion of criminal activities that may harm people, animals, or property”.
The New Arab approached TikTok for comment, but received no response at the time of publication.