TikTok cracks down on posts about Osama bin Laden's "Letter to America" amid apparent viral trend
TikTok on Thursday cracked down on posts about Osama bin Laden's "Letter to America," which the al Qaeda leader wrote after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
In the lengthy letter from 2002, bin Laden attempted to justify the terror attacks against the U.S. that killed nearly 3,000 people. The al Qaeda leader criticized American military bases in the Middle East and the U.S.'s support for Israel.
Bin Laden claimed that the Quran gives permission to take revenge, and "whoever has killed our civilians, then we have the right to kill theirs." He criticized U.S. exploitation of the region's "treasures" — presumably a reference to natural resources. Violence, he claimed, is the only language America understands.
The letter resurfaced on TikTok this week amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, with some TikTok users posting about how reading the letter changed their perspective on the 9/11 attacks and U.S. foreign policy.
While TikTok said reports of it trending were inaccurate, the #lettertoamerica hashtag on TikTok had 13.7 million views as of Thursday afternoon. "Letter to America" also trended on X, the platform formally known as Twitter, where there were more than 82,000 posts.
"Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism," TikTok said in a statement on Thursday. "We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform. The number of videos on TikTok is small and reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate. This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media."
Amid the sudden surge in interest, the British newspaper The Guardian took down a web page where it had posted the full text of Bin Laden's letter back in 2002.
"The transcript published on our website had been widely shared on social media without the full context," The Guardian wrote. "Therefore we decided to take it down and direct readers instead to the news article that originally contextualised it."
White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates commented on the controversy, saying the apparent trend was especially egregious now, with acts of antisemitic violence on the rise in the U.S. and elsewhere in the aftermath of the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel.
"There is never a justification for spreading the repugnant, evil, and antisemitic lies that the leader of al Qaeda issued just after committing the worst terrorist attack in American history — highlighting them as his direct motivation for murdering 2,977 innocent Americans," Bates said. "And no one should ever insult the 2,977 American families still mourning loved ones by associating themselves with the vile words of Osama bin Laden."