When the fighting began between Israel and Hamas, Leila Warah, a 25-year-old journalist in the West Bank, acted swiftly. She shared a video on TikTok, a popular social media app, saying, “There’s a war happening in Palestine right now, and here’s what you need to know.” Since TikTok arrived in the United States in 2018, it’s become a top source of news for many young people. It’s like a global meeting place where regular people can share their thoughts, and different groups can compete to tell their side of the story.
While traditional news sources have fewer young viewers, a recent report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 20 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds now turn to TikTok for news. That’s up five points from last year. Just two days after the situation in Palestine escalated, searches like “Palestine right now” and “Israel right now” were trending on TikTok. The hashtag #Palestine has been seen over 27.8 billion times on the app, and #Israel has been seen over 23 billion times. TikTok is full of conversations about the conflict, including personal accounts, news analysis, and comments from popular social media voices.
How is TikTok being used in war?
People have also been sharing videos of violence on social media. Rachel Kastner, who works with social media in Tel Aviv, mentioned that the way Hamas terrorists showed their actions during the attack on Israel is new. These videos are now on TikTok, showing the world what they did. This is changing how people see the conflict.
On TikTok, users often like watching news analysis videos because they show many different points of view. People who create videos that aren’t about the conflict have also shared their thoughts on what’s happening. For some creators, it can be hard to talk about the situation without taking sides. TikTok users expect the people they follow for news to be clear about their opinions and sides. If someone tries to be neutral or show both sides of the conflict, they might face criticism, according to Jessica Yellin, a former top reporter for CNN who now shares news on TikTok under the name @newsnotnoise.
Over the weekend, TikTok took on a new role as the world’s window into the Israel conflict. This was quite different from the usual choreographed dances, cute animal videos, and celebrity lip-synching that captivated over a billion people on the platform.
Although TikTok initially aimed to “inspire creativity and bring joy,” it’s undeniable that the platform now plays a significant role in spreading serious and often distressing moments that capture the world’s attention. Studies reveal that members of Generation Z are more likely to turn to TikTok instead of Google for news. Moreover, with the changes in X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, TikTok’s ability to deliver impactful and culturally relevant images provides it with a distinct advantage.
Katie Harbath, former director of public policy at Facebook and senior tech advisor at the International Republican Institute, a global democracy-promoting nonprofit, observes that there isn’t a single central platform people turn to for information during times like these, as they might have used Twitter in the past. It will be fascinating to see whether people start gravitating towards a platform like TikTok, even if they don’t intend for it to be a formal news source, and how TikTok manages this content in the broader context.
Noam Schwartz is the co-founder and CEO of ActiveFence Ltd., an Israeli company that creates technology for trust and safety teams on major tech platforms. Many of his employees have close connections to individuals directly affected by the weekend’s violence. Some of Schwartz’s friends were intimately familiar with the footage from the conflict—they were among the first to witness the videos that are now broadcast worldwide, shared by accounts they followed. In some cases, they even received video calls bearing witness to the events.
Schwartz mostly views TikTok’s role in the conflict as positive. He believes that the platform has helped shed light on the extent of this event, emphasizing its importance in spreading the news. He highlights that without these videos and content on social media, it might be challenging for people to grasp the magnitude of the situation. These real-time videos help convey the reality of the conflict, which, without such documentation, could seem unbelievable to some.
In the Israel-Hamas conflict, TikTok has emerged as a powerful platform for sharing authentic, real-time footage and news, engaging a younger audience. Beyond its initial mission, it now serves as a crucial window into global events. This shift underscores the importance of media literacy in an evolving digital landscape, highlighting the challenges and opportunities that come with this transformation.