Tuning in the news on TikTok

UNTIL very recently, I would never have imagined looking for truthful, dependable news in a dance app designed for kids. 

Just a month ago, whenever a major event broke out, I and millions of ordinary people would go to the CNN channel for information because of its wide coverage, and the BBC because it seemed more global in its stance. 

Of course, we have always known that all major news organisations subscribe to their own bias and idealogy, but they have reporters all over the world and usually, their bias does not interfere with the facts on the ground. 

I mean news is news. So if we could of sort between the opinion and facts, we’d get somewhere near the truth. 

But since Oct 7, their reporting on Gaza has exposed the Western media for what it is — a bigoted, one-sided global machine that is, willingly it seems, bent on pushing an agenda that is visibly false. 

Since the current violence broke out in Palestine, the whimsical dance app, TikTok has been one of my main inputs for the real situation in Gaza. 

Even that scammer-infested Telegram app is giving me more honest reports than the major news outlets. 

While the likes of CNN and the BBC repeatedly bombard us with Israel’s point of view of it being the victim and its justification to kill indiscriminately in the name of “the right to defend itself”, the real reporters on the ground are broadcasting live directly to the world from Gaza on TikTok and Telegram apps. 

Polished talking heads and graphics of the established media pushing the Israeli and Western bias were no match for Palestinians simply pointing their phones and showing the carnage unfolding in front of them. 

It is hard to put a spin on the killing of 13,000 (and counting) Palestinian civilians when the world is able to witness the truth on their cell phones, thanks to the brave journalists of Gaza. 

Every Western media interview of people who want to stop the killing in Gaza invariably begins with the question “Do you condemn Hamas?”, even to Palestinians who just had their families killed in an air raid the night before. 

While Western media are trying hard to justify the actions of Israel of clearly clearing Gazans out of Gaza as the defence of an occupier, TikTok’s contributors are putting out the alternative view that has been actively suppressed by Western media and government alike — that Palestinians are ordinary people and that they have a right to exist too. 

Things got so bad for the pro-Israel sympathisers that US lawmakers and tech investors are calling for a ban on TikTok in the US, arguing that the most popular content related to the Gaza bombings on the app has a Pro-Palestinian slant that was undercutting support for Israel among young Americans. 

TikTok literally said it had nothing to do with the overwhelmingly pro-Palestine content on the short video platform. Basically saying that it merely reflects the sentiment of the users, it basically said “Sorry US, more people are with Palestine than Israel”. 

TikTok’s unfiltered and often more honest content has shaken the old establishment, pushing it into action. 

One US tech venture capitalist even said there is a TikTok War which he is not happy with because US high schoolers and college students are getting the “wrong information” about Israel. He most probably said that because people on the app were overwhelmingly not supporting the killings by the zionist state. 

He even did an experiment. He compared the suggested hashtags generated by the app when he typed “stand with Palestine” and “stand with Israel”. 

The hashtag #standwithpalestine had 3.4 billion views while #standwithisrael had 313.6 million views worldwide. A ratio of 10 to 1. 

In other words, Israel is losing the TikTok war. 

In Europe, the EU (European Union) has taken action against TikTok, warning that it has to moderate content to counter what it said was “misinformation” following the “Hamas attack on Israel”. TikTok has since said that it had “removed violative content and accounts”. 

The first casualty of war is always the truth, but it is harder to push propaganda today. 

  • ZB Othman is an editor at The Malaysian Reserve. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition