Does TikTok have ‘Close Partnership’ With Israel?

The Quds News Network’s TikTok account was removed without notice by the video-sharing app. Is the move part of an ongoing effort to silence Palestinian content by social media companies?

With 2021 barely ushered in, the Quds News Network (QNN) found its TikTok account removed without any notice, in a move the popular Palestinian outlet claimed was related to the content it publishes.

Hamzah Al Shobaki, the platform’s TikTok account manager, said the account was deleted after it shared 1,200 posts related to recent Arab normalisation deals and Israeli occupation.

The account had over 50,000 followers, 7 million views and 350,000 likes.

In response to the removal, QNN Director Ahmad Jarrar went on to charge the popular video-sharing app of being in “partnership with the occupation.”

“Deleting the account of the Quds News Network is a new stage for Palestinian content on the platform,” said Iyad Al Rifa’I,  head of Sada Social, a Palestinian youth initiative that documents violations Palestinian content is exposed to in the digital sphere.

The outlet has faced issues on other social media platforms in the past, claiming its critical coverage of Israel has made it a target of frequent censorship attempts.

Twitter permanently blocked QNN’s verified account in November 2019, and last month QNN said it was targeted by organised reports against its news posts on Facebook.

TikTok is just the latest social networking platform where Palestinians have had their right to freedom of expression and content suppressed.

In recent years, there have been efforts by Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and YouTube to stifle Palestinian voices, and pressure exerted on these social media companies – particularly Facebook – to curtail or remove Palestinian content under the guise of hate speech.

In 2019, Sada Social reported as many as 1,000 violations took place across social media platforms, including the removal of accounts, public pages, posts, and restriction of access.

In accordance with Israel’s access to information law, the Israeli government stated that from 2017-2018 Israel’s direct requests to social media companies resulted in the deletion of some 27,000 posts from Facebook, Twitter and Google, as cited by 7amleh – the Arab Center for Social Media Development.

Published six months ago, a 7amleh paper outlined systematic campaigns by Israel to silence Palestinians online, arguing there was a significant focus by governments, non-governmental apparatuses, and private companies on Palestinian content and efforts to paint Palestinian political speech as incitement to violence.

Ultimately, those efforts were aimed at “shrinking the space for Palestinian freedom of expression and assembly online” and “the space for expression about Palestinian rights and human rights violations of Israel” the authors wrote.

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