I’m a student in one of Britain’s largest high schools and know no one who supports Israel over Palestine. Some readers might find that shocking. Consider, though, how my generation gets its news. TikTok is today by far the preferred source of news for teenagers; YouTube is next, Instagram third. Studies show the average teen spends two hours every day glued to their screens. Few my age buy or read a newspaper, or would ever think of doing so. Even the idea of sitting down to watch TV news seems alien to us. We view the world through smartphones; we understand current affairs through video snippets.
In theory, the videos TikTok shows you relate to what you have previously watched: if the algorithm sees that you like something, it gives you more. It’s designed to be addictive. One survey found that just over half of teenagers who go on TikTok use it for news. There are almost no checks and balances to make sure that what TikTokkers see is fair, balanced or accurate.
I have come across many videos about the war on my TikTok “for you” page and I can confidently say that I’ve only seen pro-Palestinian ones. If such material were all assembled in a newspaper or a TV channel, it would look like pretty hardcore propaganda.
“If you’re not pro-Palestine,” declares a girl on TikTok who is about my age, “we’re not friends. If you’re neutral right now, we’re not friends. If you’re too uneducated to have an opinion, we’re not friends… Your neutrality is your complacency.” To be socially acceptable to her, then, you need to support Palestine against Israel. To venture that the conflict is complicated is to be “uneducated.”
“Palestinians are willing to die for this land because they are native to it,” says another video. “If Israelis were native to it, they wouldn’t bomb it.” The conflict is seen through the prism of occupier and occupied. The hashtag “stand with Palestine” has more than four billion TikTok views associated with it, about ten times more than those associated with the hashtag “stand with Israel.”
In the US, almost half of TikTok users are under thirty, and it shows. Under each video there are comments, and when it comes to Israel-Palestine, the constant refrain is that the war is racism at work. It’s the Black Lives Matter mindset applied to geopolitics: if you support Israel, you’re white. If you’re concerned about antisemitism, you’re white. The conflict is framed as white power (bad) vs diversity (good), and the Arabs are represented by the latter.
I’ve asked some of my peers why they support Palestine so strongly. Most say Israel is committing genocide and is purposefully targeting innocent people. They reference countless online videos showing horrific scenes in Gaza, often showing violence against children. They say they have never seen a video of an Israeli child suffering. What about the Israeli children, even babies, killed and brutalized on October 7? I’m surprised by how many say the Hamas attacks were justified because Israel has made Palestinians suffer for generations. Retaliation was overdue, they feel.
Do they acknowledge that Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization the world over? Do they know that Hamas is committed to the total eradication of Israel? Few seem to care. Or they mistrust the story: more lies spun by the old “official” media, which they regard as horribly biased in favor of Israel.
There aren’t many signs of my generation changing our viewing habits as we get older. If anything, the reverse is happening: older people are joining us, especially on YouTube and Instagram, platforms that have moved in TikTok’s direction by driving more users towards bitesize videos. These videos are not produced by huge influencers with millions of followers: just teens who are active on TikTok, looking to take a stand — and boost their following. Traditional media outlets do produce TikTok-friendly videos. But they struggle to compete with short, opinion-filled “hot takes” from teens in their bedrooms.