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Congress targets TikTok to counter social-media propaganda against Israel

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) have introduced the STOP HATE Act.

TikTok. Credit: Pixabay.
TikTok. Credit: Pixabay.

Following the murderous attacks by Hamas on civilians in southern Israel on Oct. 7, members of the U.S. House of Representatives pointed to TikTok as being complicit in pushing propaganda and falsehoods, shaping the perceptions primarily of Americans under the age of 30.

“Using social media, including China-owned TikTok, Russia, Iran and China have the ability to control what an entire generation of American children see and consume every day,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) told JNS. “In the wake of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack, they’re boosting disinformation, hate, Holocaust-denial conspiracy theories.”

To counter that and other social networks, Gottheimer and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) have introduced the Stopping Terrorists Online Presence and Holding Accountable Tech Entities Act, known as the STOP HATE Act. The two legislators have also called for the designation of TikTok and Qatar’s state-funded Al Jazeera network as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

“I applaud Congressman Gottheimer and Congressman Bacon’s work,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “This legislation represents another step towards holding tech companies accountable for their efforts to curb content that violates their own policies.”

He called it “essential” to gain insights into how social-media platforms moderate their content, particularly from designated terrorists.

“We’re witnessing in real life the damaging implications of an addictive app controlled by our greatest adversary. I have strong concerns about the ability for TikTok’s algorithm to promote harmful content for children in the U.S. and the effect it has on society,” Bacon told JNS. 

“If that isn’t scary enough, in addition to the data TikTok can collect when users are on the app, TikTok is also able to track the keystrokes that users make on websites and apps other than TikTok, and in November 2022, it was reported that ByteDance used TikTok to monitor the personal locations of U.S. citizens to track their movements,” he continued.

The STOP HATE Act would require social-media companies to put out reports about violations of their policies and how they addressed them. The price of non-compliance is $5 million a day. The bill would also require the director of national intelligence to offer reports about terrorist groups’ use of social media.

As an example of potential malevolent intent, Gottheimer pointed to the fact that China’s laws require ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to aid in espionage operations. “Unless TikTok is sold or shut down, China, Iran, Russia and Hamas can, and will, continue leveraging social media to spread antisemitic messages and propaganda into our communities,” Gottheimer told JNS.

Gottheimer identified China as a state that “has taken an anti-Israel stance,” saying “the Chinese foreign ministry even refuses to acknowledge the fact that Israel was attacked by Hamas.”

He also didn’t find it surprising that “in a single video promoted recently on TikTok, 300,000 users viewed conspiracy theories about the origins of the Hamas attacks, including false claims that they were orchestrated by the media.”

“It’s time to put an end to these online weapons of terror,” said the congressman.

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