The Israel-Hamas War on YouTube and TikTok: Visibility of videos and their use for humanitarian organisations

Aleks Berditchevskaia, Lequisha Girjasing, Yu Pei, Yushan Sandy Dai, Charlotte Spencer-Smith

Summary of Key Findings

The Israel-Hamas war starting in 2023 has precipitated a surge of social media content directly from and commenting about the conflict, offering various perspectives on the unfolding events. The aim of this project was to identify what kinds of content and which actors are particularly visible on YouTube and TikTok, two popular video platforms. Furthermore, this project aimed to assess to what extent content uploaded to these platforms could help humanitarian organisations identify the needs of civilians in Gaza affected by the war.

The project found that mainstream media organisations were highly visible on both YouTube and TikTok, but alternative media played a greater role on YouTube, while private individuals played a greater role on TikTok. The study utilised a comprehensive search methodology on YouTube and TikTok, focusing on the water crisis in Gaza between October 7th and December 31st, 2023, revealing that YouTube results were older, TikTok content was more recent, and common bigrams on both platforms included "million people" and "Gaza strip," with top TikTok content directly addressing the water crisis whereas top YouTube content referred to US political content. We found that citizen journalists started posting more at the end of November, suggesting that TikTok might be an emerging platform for frontline reporters. The content they post has relevant information for humanitarians, for example, images of damaged infrastructure.


Since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, a violent conflict has started between Israel and Hamas-led militant groups in the Gaza Strip. As part of the broader Israel-Palestine conflict, this war has sparked a surge of user-generated content on social media platforms. While some of this content shows footage directly from the conflict, other content comments on it or expresses support or opposition to the participants in the war. More footage still highlights the plight of affected civilians living in the Gaza Strip. In particular, videos show audiovisual media and can convey their messages in a persuasive and powerful way. The widespread use of smartphones has allowed users to film and publish their own videos in the Syrian Civil War (2011-), the Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-) and since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 (Smit et al. 2017, Specia 2022). YouTube and TikTok are globally the two most widely used social media platforms that specialise in video content, with 2.5 and 1.2 billion monthly users, respectively, and therefore have particular power to shape public discourse on the conflict (Statista 2023). There is also potential for humanitarian organisations to find footage directly from the Gaza Strip on social media to gain an initial understanding of the needs of civilians. Considering this context, it is important to understand (a) who and what content is dominating the discourse about the conflict on YouTube and TikTok, as Glaesener (2023) states that mainstream media is present on YouTube, but how present can it be? and (b) to what extent social media has utility for humanitarian organisations seeking to assess civilian needs in the conflict zone.

Initial Data Sets

The initial data sets collected for this research consist of social media metrics, including metadata from YouTube videos related to the conflict. This metadata involves tags, descriptions, view counts, and dates of publication. This provides a temporal context for the impact and reach of the contents. Similar to TikTok video metadata, focusing on the platform’s engagement features, including hashtags and view counts. For textual analysis, we have included video transcripts from both platforms. To identify the common themes and sentiments.

Further, to gain insights into the sources of the narratives, content creator data was collected. This dataset includes YouTube channels and TikTok accounts known for posting content that is relevant to the conflict, the number of videos they posted related to the conflict, and their overall reach. The groups were then categorised into mainstream media, alternative media, citizen journalists, and/or individual influencers who interpret and publish information through their scopes. Besides, this study focuses on specific videos that directly address the humanitarian issues in the region. Those that highlight issues such as access to clean water, food crises, and infrastructure damage. Contents that explicitly aim at raising awareness or providing real-time updates on the humanitarian situation have been observed.

The datasets were set to include the most active period of the conflict, and the data were filtered to only include the content published between October 7 and December 31, 2023. This gives us a focused analysis of the conflict’s peak and its aftermath. The periodization is to evaluate the development of the online discourse as the situation on the ground develops. The extraction of bigrams from video transcripts of both YouTube and TikTok provides a scrutinised view of the discussion, indicating the most recurring topics and concerns.

Research Questions

Which accounts and videos are highly visible in the discourse around the Israel-Hamas War on YouTube and TikTok?

Can humanitarians find relevant information in the videos posted on YouTube and TikTok:

  1. by using narrow search terms relevant to humanitarian concerns?
  2. by following a curated list of local citizen journalists?


To determine the top accounts and videos, we performed a series of relevant keyword searches on YouTube and TikTok using terms such as "Israel," "IDF," "Gaza," "Palestine," "Hamas," and “Israel Palestine.”. These terms were selected to reflect the mainstream discourse surrounding the conflict and are likely to be encountered by average users without specialised knowledge of the subject. In the next step, the metadata for the top 50 results for each search term was scraped for each platform. For YouTube, this was performed using YouTube Data Tools. While for TikTok, search results were scraped using the Zeeschuimer browser extension developed by the Digital Methods Initiative.

As YouTube Data Tools pulls data directly from a YouTube API, Zeeschuimer operates through a web browser; thus, it was necessary to set up a clean research browser for collecting TikTok data to minimise the influence of TikTok’s personalisation algorithms on the search results. The data was then exported to the 4CAT Capture and Analysis Toolkit, a software suite for analysing data also developed by the Digital Methods Initiative. The scraped data was downloaded as a CSV file and aggregated into one dataset for YouTube and one dataset for TikTok.

A co-tag network analysis was performed on this data in Gephi to identify further popular relevant search terms that could be used to collect more relevant data. As a result of this, the search term “#freepalestine” was added to the TikTok search terms. The co-tag analysis of the YouTube data did not reveal any further popular relevant search terms. Because sometimes the same videos were recommended across different searches for YouTube and TikTok individually, any duplicates were removed from the aggregated data. In this data, we identified the top 25 accounts whose videos had generated the most views for each platform. As a broad categorisation, these accounts were grouped by 'mainstream media’, ‘alternative media’, ‘state media’ and ‘other’. The accounts that had accrued the most views through the videos found through the search results were then identified to show who had the most reach in the discourse on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

To understand if the platforms returned relevant results for humanitarians, we focused on the water crisis in Gaza, examining content from YouTube and TikTok between October 7 and December 31, 2023. We developed 5 targeted search queries: “Gaza water crisis”; “Gaza clean water access”; “Gaza clean water access, water crisis”; “Gaza eyewitness, clean water access, water crisis”; “Gaza press heroes, clean water access, water crisis.” We collected TikTok content generated by citizen journalists using a curated list shared by user @designbydeda on Instagram. We employed YouTube Data Tools and Zeeschuimer to collect data. The transcripts for the Tiktok videos were generated using audio transcription with OpenAI’s Whisper model, and for the YouTube transcripts, we used YouTube Data Tools. We created word trees from the transcripts (with a maximum of 3 branches and a window size of 5) and generated bigrams to understand dominant discourses. Video thumbnails were analysed using OpenAI’s CLIP model and visualised by category. All analyses were implemented through modules within the 4CAT data analysis suite.


Comparing high-visibility content on YouTube and TikTok

Mainstream media is highly viewed on both YouTube and TikTok

The analysis of mainstream media presence on YouTube and TikTok during the Israel-Gaza conflict reveals distinctive trends in content viewership. As was expected, mainstream media was particularly well represented in the YouTube data and generated a significant proportion of the highest views. This is also reflected in particularly prominent videos. A notable example includes a mainstream media video featuring a Hamas fighter shooting at Israeli soldiers, which had the highest number of views in the YouTube dataset. Interestingly, a ‘YouTube Short’ depicting the rescue of a baby from rubble in Gaza appeared as the most frequently recommended piece across various search terms. This trend aligns with the platform’s previous statements about wanting to promote authoritative news sources (Porter 2023). Similar to YouTube, the results from TikTok were dominated by mainstream media and the accounts of private individuals. The Daily Mail generated views from multiple videos, particularly a video about Taylor Swift’s bodyguard returning to Israel to serve in the army.

Alternative media are more important on YouTube than on TikTok

In contrast to YouTube, TikTok’s data set shows a noticeably lower representation of alternative media. On YouTube, alternative media sources, including religious news sources like TBN Israel and Muslim Central, as well as shows like Piers Morgan Uncensored, were prominently viewed. However, this contrasts with the TikTok data, where alternative media did not play a role in highly-viewed content.

Graph 1: Most viewed videos and accounts on TikTok search results for the Israel-Hamas war