Despite Cyber Concerns, Israeli Army Embraces TikTok in Public Relations Battle

U.S. Department of Defense ordered personnel to delete the app from government smartphones, while Israeli cyber security firm says TikTok has 'vulnerabilities'

An Israeli soldier takes a selfie with an Israeli settler dressed as U.S. President Donald Trump as during the Jewish Purim holiday. Shuhada Street, divided West Bank town of Hebron. March 01, 2018
AFP

While the U.S. military recently banned soldiers from using the short-form video app TikTok, whose videos are watched by billions around the world, the Israel Defense Forces has decided to take a very different strategy. 

Warmly embracing TikTok as the newest weapon in its public relations efforts on social media, the IDF now has an official account on the app. It has posted everything from paratroopers jumping out of the sky to the strains of “It’s Raining Men,” to soldiers in the snowy Golan Heights striking a pose to the song “Icy,” and even a surprise emotional reunion between a lone soldier and his father from abroad, as James Arthur’s “Quite Miss Home” plays in the background. 

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One video shows a soldier running and shooting at targets with the caption “we don’t play video games” with a rap song in the background sounding the warning “do or die.” 

TikTok, available in 150 markets in 75 languages, has become a global hit and was the second most downloaded app in the second half of 2019, pulling past Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. 

In December, the U.S. Defense Department ordered personnel from all branches to delete TikTok from their government smartphones and urged them to stay away from it on their personal phones as well. 

The move followed the news that the American government was conducting a “national security review” of the company by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, after the American company Musical.ly sold TikTok to Beijing-based ByteDance for $1 billion. 

Florida senator Marco Rubio tweeted that he had initiated the review “because any platform owned by a company in China which collects massive amounts of data on Americans is a potential serious threat to our country.”

The Israel-based cyber-security company CheckPoint has confirmed that there are “multiple vulnerabilities within the TikTok application” which could potentially allow attackers to manipulate the content of TikTok videos, delete them, make private videos public and reveal personal information saved on the account.  

The Israeli military's spokesperson commented that at this stage, it does not prevent the use of TiKTok. The army's Information Security Department works to raise awareness among soldiers on the potential "threats of uploading private, personal or classified information to social media platforms," it added.

In January, a U.S. official cautioned Israel over investments from China, citing cyber security concerns and the prospect of Israel’s allies limiting intelligence-sharing with it.

Chinese investment in Israel’s tech sector reached more than $325 million in 2018, an Israeli venture capital research group said. In a deal that drew U.S. concern, China won Israeli approval to build a private seaport near Haifa, a berth for the U.S. Mediterranean fleet.

Reuters contributed to this report.