(JTA) — A group of Jewish celebrities and TikTok creators decried antisemitism on the video social media platform in a private video call with its executives and employees on Wednesday.
The approximately 90-minute meeting included more than 30 participants, according to a recording obtained by The New York Times. It comes during a reported spike in antisemitism following the outbreak of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, and as debate over the war on social media has grown heated.
Among the Jewish celebrities were actors Sacha Baron Cohen, Debra Messing and Amy Schumer, and TikTok creator Miriam Ezagui, all of whom have previously spoken out about antisemitism. Adam Presser, TikTok’s head of operations, and Seth Melnick, its global head of user operations, both of whom are also Jewish, were the app’s lead representatives on the call.
“What is happening at TikTok is it is creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis,” said Cohen, who previously made waves in a 2019 address to the Anti-Defamation League, in which he called Facebook and other social media platforms “the greatest propaganda machine in history,” and accused them of facilitating the spread of antisemitism.
Cohen does not appear to be publicly active on TikTok. According to the Times, he told Presser “Shame on you,” and said the app could “flip a switch” to better counter antisemitism. People on the call cited comments such as “Hitler was right” or “I hope you end up like Anne Frank,” being left under videos posted by Jewish users.
Messing also took aim at the app. “I understand that you are in a very, very difficult and complicated place, but you also are the main platform for the dissemination of Jew hate,” she said, according to the Times.
The call, which was arranged by TikTok executives, comes after Schumer, Messing, Ezagui and other Jewish celebrities and influencers (but not Cohen) signed an open letter saying that TikTok “is not safe for Jewish users.”
“Simply put, TikTok lacks critical safety features to protect Jewish content creators and the broader Jewish TikTok community, leaving us in digital and physical danger,” the letter says. “This hate and vitriol is not rare, spontaneous or unexpected. Sadly, rampant antisemitism is a common problem that TikTok has failed to address for far too long.”
The letter calls for TikTok to enhance its safety tools, moderate content fairly, prioritize verified and objective content in times of crisis, and respond to physical threats.
Presser and Melnick said they wanted to hear from creators on TikTok in order to improve the platform.
“Obviously a lot of what Sacha says, there’s truth to that,” Presser said, referring to Cohen’s plea for social media companies to address hate. But Presser later said there was no “magic button” to address all the concerns raised in the meeting, according to the Times.
“We recognize this is an incredibly difficult and fearful time for millions of people around the world and in our TikTok community,” TikTok said in a statement. “Our leadership has been meeting with creators, civil society, human rights experts and stakeholders to listen to their experiences and feedback on how TikTok can remain a place for community, discovery and sharing authentically.”
Criticism has flared up against the platform again as a stream of TikTok users this week posted videos recommending a letter written by Osama bin Laden that aims to justify the September 11 terror attacks and includes antisemitic statements. TikTok has banned videos promoting the letter. PJC