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Sacha Baron Cohen, Jewish celebrities rip TikTok for rising antisemitism in private meeting

TikTok executives met privately with Jewish creators and Hollywood celebrities to respond to the rapid rise of antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

During the approximately 90-minute listening session Wednesday, actors Sacha Baron Cohen, Debra Messing and Amy Schumer and creators such as Eitan Bernath and Miriam Ezagui urged action from TikTok’s head of operations Adam Presser and its global head of user operations Seth Melnick.

TikTok arranged the meeting after an open letter from the group condemned the company’s response to escalating hate and harassment including rape and death threats against the Jewish community. The company described the meeting as "constructive" and told ˽ýӳ that it was part of an ongoing effort to hear voices and get feedback from Jewish creators on the platform.

“I feel like our original letter and your article made a big impact on them and got their attention,” said Montana Tucker, a 30-year-old  on TikTok with 9.3 million followers.

Tucker said creators on the platform are its biggest fans, with many of them owing their careers to TikTok virality. Sharing their personal brushes with anti-Jewish hate and harassment with TikTok executives made an impression, she said.

“I think they really heard us, and I would be shocked if change doesn’t come from that call. To be honest, I think it really hit them in ways I don’t think they expected," Tucker said. "They now realize the severity of it and they realize what they have to do.”

'I really hope they take our words to heart'

Other participants took a wait-and-see attitude.

“I thought that the meeting raised some very strong points and was very compelling. Whether or not we see action done on TikTok remains to be seen,” Ezagui, one of the most popular Jewish Orthodox content creators on TikTok, told ˽ýӳ. “I really hope they take our words to heart and make some active changes to protect us, but time will tell.” 

This week ˽ýӳ reported that the escalation has also targeted Holocaust survivors, one of whom is leaving the platform because of it.

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TikTok is facing claims that its algorithms are pushing pro-Palestinian videos, prompting several Washington lawmakers to call for a ban on the app owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

Further fanning those flames, Osama bin Laden’s two-decade-old “Letter to America” that attacked Jews and justified the killing of Americans went viral on TikTok this week.

'Biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis'

“What is happening at TikTok is it is creating the biggest antisemitic movement since the Nazis,” Cohen said during the video call, according to a person on the call who asked for anonymity because the meeting was private and he was not authorized to discuss it.

Cohen, who does not appear to have a TikTok account, did not respond to a request for comment.

Presser told the creators and celebrities that there is no “magic button” to stop antisemitism on TikTok.

In this photo illustration, a TikTok logo is displayed on an iPhone on February 28, 2023 in London, England.

“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 to ˽ýӳ. “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.”

Alarming surge in antisemitism and Holocaust denial

In early November Jewish social media influencers called on TikTok to combat an alarming surge in antisemitism that they say is making the popular video-sharing platform unsafe for the Jewish community, according to an exclusive report in ˽ýӳ.

Still reeling from grief at the Hamas attack on Israel and horror at the sharp rise in  across the U.S., the celebrities and creators who collectively have tens of millions of followers said they had been flooded by so much anti-Jewish anger that they feared for their physical safety.

Jewish social media influencers wrote a letter to TikTok demanding that the social media platform crack down on surging antisemitism.

"As Jews, we are scared, distraught, and at a breaking point. This isn’t just 'digital harassment.' There are real world implications," the celebrities who include comedian Amy Schumer and actress Debra Messing wrote in the open letter. "We are scared to leave our homes. We feel compelled to hire armed security. We are frightened to post for fear of receiving more suffocating digital hate. We fear that only an unfathomable tragedy befalling a Jewish TikTok creator will lead to change. Is that what you are waiting for?”

This week an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor using TikTok to make sure a new generation does not forget says he’s being bullied off the social media platform by resurging antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

Gidon Lev, a TikTok celebrity with nearly half a million followers, told ˽ýӳ he plans to deactivate his account after the flood of hateful comments and messages following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks made him fear for his safety. Other Holocaust survivors interviewed by ˽ýӳ also reported a sharp increase in hate and harassment.

Anti-Jewish hate 'is growing at exponential rates'

Bernath, a chef and entertainer with millions of TikTok followers, said he appreciated TikTok’s leadership “coming to the table for this crucial conversation." 

“Antisemitism is growing at exponential rates and with breaking news related content being consumed like never before on TikTok it is imperative action is taken in times of crisis like this,” he told ˽ýӳ in a statement. “There were many concerns and suggestions raised by creators on the call that I, too, am deeply concerned about. We all love TikTok and are eager to hear what leadership commits to doing to ensure TikTok is a safe place for Jewish creators and the Jewish community at large.”

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