On multiple days over the course of the past week, a Turkish streamer who claims to represent Palestinians battled a Greek-Georgian streamer who claims to represent Israelis. In case there was any doubt about who each was supposedly representing, each had the flag of their respective adopted sides onscreen during the battles.
In all of the battles WIRED observed, none of the participants appeared to have any link to the entities they claimed to be representing, and none of them suggested they were planning on donating any of the money earned to the people directly impacted by the current crisis.
Battles between influencers online have been a feature of streaming services since at least 2016, particularly in China, though on most other platforms, the participants have to complete tasks or show off a skill in order to win a battle. On TikTok, it’s mostly just screaming.
Live matches, also known as player knockout or PK battles, have been a feature on TikTok since at least 2021, though TikTok does not mention the feature on its own webpage describing how livestreaming works. Despite the feature being available for more than two years, it is not very well known, and to the uninitiated, the TikTok battles may make little sense, with viewer counters, stickers, and never-ending comments crowding the screen while the two creators shout and scream in a bid to get their followers to donate more gifts.
Rather than making any coherent argument about the rights of Israelis or Palestinians during this crisis, the streamers instead shout out their side’s name or scream comments such as: “Like, like, like,” and “Follow me.”
The streams WIRED observed were watched live by thousands of TikTok users. Today, just before this article was published, a push notification showed the streamers were going live once again.
The two streamers did not respond to WIRED’s messages about their battles.
The rise of TikTok live matches related to the Israel-Hamas war was first highlighted by Abbie Richards, a research fellow at the Accelerationism Research Consortium who specializes in tracking misinformation on TikTok. Richards said it was “gross to grift off atrocities.”
“So this is real people, sending real money to TikTokkers to gesture support for the concept of Israel or Palestine,” Richards said in a video posted on Instagram this week. “But do you know who’s really making money off of these? TikTok, because they take roughly half of the money creators make on live. This helps literally no one except these grifters and TikTok. It’s fucking disgusting.”