TikTok removed the #lettertoamerica hashtag from its search function after videos about Osama bin Laden’s 2002 “Letter to America” went viral on the platform and were re-uploaded to social media platform X. Some users of social networks suggested that the Al Qaeda founder’s document gives an alternative perspective on US involvement in Middle East conflicts.
Throughout the week, TikTok users had been sharing the link to The Guardian’s transcript of bin Laden’s letter, which was written about a year after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. The Guardian removed the letter from its website on Wednesday.
In the letter, Bin Laden addressed the American people and sought to answer the following questions: “Why do we fight and oppose you?” and “What are we calling you for and what do we want from you?” The letter includes anti-Semitic language and homophobic rhetoric.
The virality of the letter has revived criticism of the platform, which is owned by China’s ByteDance. The app has faced increasing scrutiny in the past year as countries, including the United States, argue that it poses a problem. threat to national security. Since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, critics of the app have alleged that it is using its influence to push content that is anti-Israel and contrary to US foreign policy interests. TikTok has said accusations of bias are unfounded.
Researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which studies extremism on social media, said they found 41 “Letter to the United States” videos on TikTok. While TikTok has now blocked “Letter to America” from its search function, videos referencing “Letter to America” are still easily accessible under the search term “Bin Laden,” the ISD said in its recommendations.
Bin Laden’s letter condemns US support for Israel and accuses the Americans of aiding in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Bin Laden, killed during a US special operation in Pakistan in 2011, also denounced US interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Kashmir, Chechnya and Lebanon.
People online have used bin Laden’s words as a springboard for discussion about American foreign policy in the Middle East. Several have said he made them reevaluate their beliefs about the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While people criticized America’s involvement in global conflicts, many clarified that they were not praising or defending bin Laden’s orchestration of the 9/11 attacks.
Those on the platform who cited the letter encouraged people to read it, saying that doing so helped them better understand US interventions in the Middle East and the war between Israel and Hamas. These videos have also gone viral on X, where some renewed calls for TikTok to be banned.
While the letter was re-uploaded to TikTok, numerous videos discussing it were removed from the platform. TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe said in an email that the videos showing the letter violate the platform’s community guidelines.
“The content promoted by this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism,” Rathe said. “We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it ended up on our platform. The number of videos on TikTok is small and reporting on trends on our platform is inaccurate. “This is not exclusive to TikTok and has appeared on multiple platforms and media.”
An X viral post by journalist Yashar Ali highlighting these videos received 25.6 million visits. This brought more attention to TikTok’s speech. TikTok said the number of videos about the letter was small, but that interest increased after they were posted on X.
Ali said tThe Washington Post that the hashtag was not trending on TikTok at the time he made his compilation, but said that the number of videos posted on the platform “was not small enough to be minuscule or unimportant.”
In its investigation, the ISD said that references to Bin Laden on X increased more than 4,300%, from Tuesday to Thursday, from just over 5,000 to more than 230,000 references. References to “Letter to America” increased more than 1,800%, from just over 4,800 to 100,000, with 719 million impressions across the platform.
On YouTube, searches for bin Laden also increased 400% between Tuesday and Thursday, according to Google Trends. Instagram’s auto-suggest feature within search helped users find “Letter to America” and included it as a “popular search.”
Representatives for X, YouTube and Meta, which owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
In its Politics of violent criminal or extremist organizations, YouTube claims., “Content intended to praise, promote or assist violent criminal or extremist organizations is not permitted” on the platform. It tells users not to post “content produced by violent extremist, criminal or terrorist organizations.”
x guidelines It also states that the platform “will remove any accounts maintained by individual perpetrators of terrorist attacks, violent extremists, or mass violence, and may also remove posts that disseminate manifestos or other content produced by the perpetrators.”
instagram Community Principles Please note that the platform “is not a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime or hate groups.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the link to deleted document was listed as one of the most viewed pages on The Guardian website.
“The transcript posted on our website in 2002 has been widely shared on social media without full context,” a Guardian spokesperson told NBC News in an emailed statement. “Therefore, we have decided to remove it and direct readers to the news article that originally contextualized it.”