Over the past few years, it has become evident how the video-sharing platform has given the chance for geographically dispersed groups, such as Palestinians, to capture the attention of a vast and diverse audience. The app has served as an unbreakable realm of activism where Palestinian and pro-Palestinian users can navigate the complexities of everyday conflict with Israel and convey their messages through the platform in ways many can empathize, understand and live through their screens themselves.
These users have skillfully highlighted the rich legacy of Palestinian culture, transcending geographical boundaries and shedding light on both global and local issues such as living conditions, human rights violations, unlawful arrests, and various instances of perceived injustice. They accomplish this by leveraging the platform's powerful dissemination systems of hashtags, challenges, comments, trending sounds, and features (like 'duet' and 'stitch') to connect with Palestinians from around the world, fostering a dialogue that creates a community of support and affinity.
One of the pivotal moments for Palestinian users on TikTok occurred in 2021 during the eruption of the war between Gaza and Israel when the #FreePalestine movement migrated from platforms like Instagram and YouTube to TikTok. This movement had already established a legacy on other social media platforms, but the unique meme-based qualities of TikTok provided an immersive and contagious experience of activism, elevating its impact to new heights of virality. Users deployed playful templates for content creation (#challenges), where their everyday adversity took on a (self-)performative form, superseding the crude, real-life images with metaphorical representations of what the Israeli oppression “does” to their bodies.
On TikTok, they do not show victims for exhibitionist purposes like on Instagram; rather, they perform victimization, disclosing their faces and bodies as sufferers of conflict. Instead of depicting the conventional imagery of injured or dead bodies of Palestinians, many users opted for artistic renditions, symbolizing the inflicted violence upon them. For Palestinians, any ban on TikTok would deprive them of daily and accessible visibility to a nation yearning for recognition, in a territory where their existence is constantly contested. Do not expect Palestinian users to migrate easily to a different platform, as the notion of home for them is in a perpetual state of flux, with many already grappling to find a stable sense of belonging in the real world.