Coby Schoffman

Lost in the TikTok Trenches

Original Artwork - David Schoffman (used with permission)

The social media-based battle for ‘pro-Israel’ hearts and minds has been lost. Despite the noble and valiant efforts of several visionary NGO practitioners, well-to-do celebrities, and a cadre of Jewish influencers, the zone has been flooded with content that builds sympathy for Israel’s detractors, and the ‘anti-Israel’ camp can claim victory from the TikTok trenches.

There are loads of folks to blame for this unfortunate reality, but calling attention to those responsible doesn’t do the Jewish community any good during this critical time. There is one thing that should be obvious to us all – most of the youth are on social media and most of the youth are against Israel.

Some much-needed nuance is in order here: if younger folks identify more with the ‘pro-Palestinian’ camp, that doesn’t necessarily make them ‘anti-Israel’. It is possible to hold several viewpoints simultaneously, and oversimplifying the side choosing in this conflict is a separate issue that needs real attention. However, many young people lack this nuance, and have been brought up in arguably the most intellectually lazy era in contemporary world history. This translates to the majority of 35’s and below holding hostile views towards Israel, and often anti-Semitic perspectives of the Jewish people writ large.

There are a multitude of factors that play into the ineffectiveness of the Israel advocacy social media strategy. One is the platforms themselves. Often, the most hateful, vitriolic, and controversial content receives the highest levels of engagement across platforms. Graphic images of dead children perform better than influencers explaining the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another is ‘the numbers game’ and leveraging human capital. In this arena, the Israel/pro-Jewish advocates will always lose. There are simply more people in the opposing camp, paving the way for hostile or unsympathetic content to go viral. The algorithm will likely always favor the majority opinion proliferating on the respective platform. In addition, we have Israeli messaging issues and broader political dynamics that consistently put the Israel advocates in a more difficult starting place when it comes to the social media battle for public opinion. There are simply too many Israeli policymakers spewing deplorable rhetoric publicly, providing low hanging fruit for the ‘other side’. Finally, there is the offensive strategy component. During the ‘off season’ of the conflict, the Israel/Jewish advocates need to lead comprehensive campaigns inoculating folks against antisemitism and Israel hatred. For far too long, this angle has been overlooked.

I don’t want to minimize the efforts of some of the most important advocacy organizations, and influential voices in the Israel advocating ecosystem. The work they have led during this critical time is nothing short of incredible, especially considering the battle they are up against, and the overwhelming amount of hate they deal with daily.

With that said, those advocating for Israel and the Jewish people on social media need a new game plan. When the Swords of Iron dust settles, what will become of the social media Israel/Jewish advocacy space? My hope is that the nuanced, Israel advocating organizations will reorient their strategies, innovate, coordinate, and be supported philanthropically during the ‘off season.’ Additionally, it is my hope that all the new voices advocating for Israel will continue to fight the social media battle online, even when it’s not a trending topic.

About the Author
Coby Schoffman is a San Francisco-based serial social entrepreneur and Founder of The Nation Foundation. Schoffman received a MSc in Transnational Security from New York University and has a demonstrated history of working to craft complex, community-driven solutions in high conflict zones. The views in his columns are his own, and do not reflect those of any organization.
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