TikTok denies Osama bin Laden's 'Letter to America' is trending as views top 10 million

"The number of videos on TikTok is small and reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate."

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
TikTok posted their content policy to X on Thursday after videos of Americans and others responding to Osama bin Laden's 2002 "Letter to America" topped 10 million views. The videos are all of a similar tone, with TikTokers claiming that after they read the letter their view of the United States, terrorism, and Israel had been changed forever. The letter encouraged these TikTokers to have increasingly negative views on America.

"Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism," TikTok said. "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."

"I need everyone to stop what they're doing right now and go read — it's literally two pages — go read 'A Letter to America,'" one TikToker said, proclaiming her allegiance with America's enemies.

The letter had been published in The Guardian only a year after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America in which over 3,000 people were killed. The Guardian pulled the letter down after it became such a hot item on TikTok.

The letter was bin Laden's explanation of what led him and his followers to hate the United States and the ideology that encouraged him to massacre so many innocent civilians and turn American commercial airliners into bombs.

As TikTokers found the letter and began to share it, they expressed their agreement with the letter. The TikTokers, steeped in the world view that paints everyone and every nation as either an oppressor or a victim, want desperately to relate to the victim. This is how bin Laden portrayed himself, his terrorist friends, and Palestinians in his letter. American students have learned that victims are always in the right against a force they perceive as mightier than they are.

The letter quotes the Quran and tells Americans why they are hated and what they should do to stop being hated. He complains that American intervention had prevented Islamic governments from enacting the brutal Shari'ah laws that he advocated for and that these governments have "surrendered to the Jews." He also insults America for creating laws based on God-given natural rights and encourages the US to adopt Shariah laws. If Americans would not comply, he said, they would continue to be attacked.

During Trump's term in office, he advocated for the banning of TikTok, which is an app owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Trump said that "additional steps must be taken to deal with the national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain," and by this he specifically meant "the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China."

These, he said, were a continued threat to "the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States." In 2020, the app had been downloaded over 175 million times in the US. Data collection was a big part of Trump's concern, but also he was worried about censorship on the platform that suppresses content critical of China and boosts content critical of the US. An executive from the company admitted to Congress that the parent company ByteDance does have access to TikTok users' data. That company is alleged to have a "back door" to the CCP, meaning that data would flow from TikTok to the Chinese Communist Party.

The TikTok algorithm boosts what is popular on the site, creating a loop where the more popular something is, the more it is served to its users. With views of videos on the bin Laden letter now rising higher than 10 million, the algorithm will continue to serve that content. The app is mostly used by those aged 18-34 years old.
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