Holocaust Memorial Day: TikTok launches plan to fight Holocaust denial

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Holocaust Memorial Day: TikTok launches plan to fight Holocaust denial
An illustration of a hand holding a phone showing the TikTok logoImage source,

TikTok has rolled out new measures to combat Holocaust denial on its platform in partnership with Unesco and the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

Users who search for terms relating to the Holocaust will be directed towards accurate information.

A total of 17% of content related to the Holocaust on the viral video app either denied or distorted events, Unesco said.

TikTok said it put its "full strength" into removing hate.

Speaking on Holocaust Memorial Day, TikTok said that when people search for a term related to the Holocaust, they will now see a banner at the top of the results page that prompts them to visit a WJC and Unesco website aboutholocaust.org to learn more.

Users will also be pointed to the website if they look up hashtags like #HolocaustSurvivor or #HolocaustRemembrance,

A screenshot of a TikTok messageImage source, TikTok
Image caption,
Some hashtags will also direct people to accurate information

TikTok also said that in the future it would add a permanent banner at the bottom of any video discussing the Holocaust, which will direct users to authoritative information.

"We believe education plays a critical role in striking out hate," said Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok's director of government relations.

"Hateful behaviour is incompatible with TikTok's inclusive environment, and we'll continue to put our full strength behind keeping our platform a place that is free of hate, while harnessing the power of TikTok to educate our community."

Younger audiences

WJC President Ronald Lauder welcomed the new measures and said: "TikTok is known for its ability to reach a younger audience, many of them uninformed about the horrors of the Holocaust, and particularly susceptible to misinformation."

And the pandemic has, some argue, exacerbated the threat from misinformation.

Unesco said that disinformation about the Holocaust and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have "spiked dramatically on social media platforms" since the start of the pandemic.

Critics have said the big social and video platforms need to do more.

accused major social media platforms of failing to take down more than 80% of anti-Semitic posts on their platforms.

The research covered Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.

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Analysis by Mike Wendling, USAGovNews Trending

Type "Holocaust" into TikTok's search bar and you'll get auto-complete suggestions like "Holocaust survivors", "Holocaust Memorial Day" and "Holocaust educational". But also "Holocaust is not real" and "Holocaust and vaccines" - the latter a reference to a false conspiracy theory that millions are secretly being killed by Covid-19 vaccinations.

To be fair, actually searching for those phrases leads mostly to clips refuting misinformation and hate, rather than spreading it. (After being informed of the search suggestions by the USAGovNews, TikTok removed them)

And some of the most popular Holocaust-related TikToks are interviews with survivors, or poignant illustrations of the sheer scale of the slaughter. Many are innovative and moving, and really do bring history to life.

On the other hand, there is plenty of anti-Semitic content on TikTok, according to a report last October by campaign group Hope Not Hate.

These videos can reach millions - even though they're not very popular compared to the video app's most viral hits. But raw numbers aren't really the point.

TikTok presents users with a constant stream of clips, which similar to most other social networks, are individually tailored to their viewing habits. So if you happen to watch a clip about Holocaust denial, the app will probably suggest similar videos, and if you watch those, you'll get more of them - and so on.

This is the stuff from which rabbit holes are made. In other words, the risk is less about broadcasting Holocaust denial to millions - and more about feeding the conspiratorial tendencies of a niche, extremely online audience.

It's social media algorithms - not search bars - that have the potential to be the real drivers of hate and bad information.

TikTok's action will be widely seen as a positive step in tackling Holocaust denial, but the big social media companies still have more to do.

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Responding to concerns about algorithms, TikTok said, "We do not tolerate content that denies the Holocaust and other genocides, and there is no place for anti-Semitism on our platform.

"We continually strengthen our policies and systems that work to counter hateful behaviour, and we welcome guidance from experts like Unesco as we strive to promote a safe community environment."

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