There ha been a resurgence of videos on TikTok expressing sympathy for a viral letter penned by Osama bin Laden. It harshly criticizes the United States and its support for Israel, and has stirred widespread controversy and debate on the popular social media platform.
Osama’s “Letter to America” originally surfaced a year after the tragic September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks orchestrated by Bin Laden. It defended the attacks on American soil. It also accused the nation of being subservient to Jewish interests. Osama alleged that the Jews had control over the country’s economy and media. Bin Laden’s missive also blamed American taxpayers for contributing to the suffering of Muslims in the Middle East, including the destruction of Palestinian homes.
Numerous TikTok users, in response to the circulating letter, voiced disillusionment with the United States. They expressed disappointment through their videos. Some users claimed the viral letter had prompted them to question the nation’s role in global affairs. They also questioned its narrative concerning significant events such as 9/11 and the situation in the Middle East.
The hashtag #lettertoamerica gained considerable traction on TikTo. It is a social media platform with a net worth of $66 billion, amassing a significant view count of 14.2 million. However, TikTok swiftly blocked content associated with Bin Laden and the letter. They cited their strict policies against promoting terrorism. A spokesperson for TikTok emphasized that the surge in views for such content primarily ensued after media coverage.
In response, the White House condemned the contents of the letter as repugnant, evil, and antisemitic. Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew J. Bates stressed that associating oneself with the vile words of Osama bin Laden insults the families of the victims. 2,977 victims lost their lives in the September 11 attacks. Bates highlighted the rising antisemitic violence globally, particularly following recent events involving Hamas and the Jewish community.
The Guardian, after witnessing a spike in traffic to its site due to the circulation of a transcript of the viral letter from 2002, decided to remove the document that redirected readers to its original news article. Nevertheless, this removal triggered a fresh wave of videos on TikTok. Some users propagated conspiracy theories about the letter’s availability.
Amidst this controversy, TikTok held a meeting with Jewish creators and celebrities. Concerns were raised about the surge in antisemitism and harassment on the platform. Some creators urged the company to take a firmer stance, calling for the complete ban of the viral letter.
The Israel-Hamas conflict has recently brought TikTok back under scrutiny. There were accusations of the platform amplifying pro-Palestinian and antisemitic content. This resurgence of videos related to Bin Laden’s letter has revived allegations on TikTok. It is said to be advancing the interests of the Chinese government, sparking renewed calls by Republican lawmakers to ban the app.
About one-third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 regularly rely on TikTok for news updates, as reported by Pew Research Center. The proportion of adults in the United States who consistently gather news from TikTok has increased significantly. It has quadrupled from 3% in 2020 to 14% in 2023.
TikTok, due to being owned by China’s ByteDance, has faced mounting scrutiny in the US. The app is increasingly regarded as a potential national security threat and a challenge to American interests. TikTok’s actions, ownership, and alleged content biases have intensified friction between the US and China. This development underscores the challenges faced by social media platforms in managing controversial and sensitive content.