On TikTok, a greater than two decade-old letter from Osama Bin Laden to the USA concerning the September 11 terrorist assaults that killed almost 3,000 People in 2001 is quickly spreading to the platform’s 1 billion customers.
The memo is spreading by way of the viral hashtag #lettertoamerica, a reference to Bin Laden’s terrorist manifesto that requires violence towards People, Israelis and Jews, promotes antisemitic conspiracy theories and condemns homosexuality.
On Wednesday night, the #lettertoamerica hashtag had simply over 2 million views. At time of publication on Thursday, that had multiplied greater than six-fold—to greater than 13.9 million views. TikTok has denied it’s trending. “The variety of movies on TikTok is small and studies of it trending on our platform are inaccurate,” spokesperson Alex Haurek mentioned in an announcement Thursday. He added that views have elevated since media studies of the pattern started, which has led extra individuals to seek for the movies.
“Content material selling this letter clearly violates our guidelines on supporting any type of terrorism,” Haurek defined. “We’re proactively and aggressively eradicating this content material and investigating the way it received onto our platform.” He added that the issue will not be distinctive to TikTok. On X, previously Twitter, “Bin Laden” was trending Thursday with “Letter to America” and “TikTok.” (In a former life, Emily Baker-White, an creator on this story, held coverage positions at Fb and Spotify.)
Creators revisiting Bin Laden’s letter in gentle of the present conflict in Israel and Gaza say the memo has made them query whether or not 9/11 was, actually, an act of terrorism. Many are pointing to the letter to counsel that the U.S. was rightly attacked on that day as a result of the nation was, based on them, an occupier and oppressor of Palestine and different Arabic international locations. In addition they declare that probably the most accessible copies of this letter—a translation revealed in 2002 by The Guardian—was not too long ago taken down to cover this narrative from individuals within the West.
‘Letter to America’ is propaganda and these children on TikTok haven’t solely fallen for it; they’re spreading it.
“I simply learn Letter to America and I’ll by no means take a look at life the identical, I’ll by no means take a look at this nation the identical,” creator Kiana Leroux advised her greater than 1 million followers in a viral video Wednesday. “My total viewpoint on the whole life I’ve believed and I’ve lived has modified.” (The video seems to have been taken down on Thursday morning.)
“I don’t assume that America took out Osama Bin Laden for 9/11—no, I actually don’t,” TikTok creator Alessia Francesca advised her viewers in a video that has now been seen greater than 250,000 instances. “They took out Osama Bin Laden as a result of he was making an attempt to open America’s eyes to this unlawful occupation that they’re serving to Israel with, of the Palestinian individuals, and likewise he’s holding America accountable for his or her half on this unlawful occupation and un-aliving of Palestinians for many years.”
“I’m like, large into conspiracy theories, like actually, actually large,” she added, alleging that 9/11 was an inside job. “I’ve gone down an obsessive rabbit gap of 9/11—I’ve achieved, like, tasks on it and stuff, proving that America had one thing to do with it.”
When looking #lettertoamerica, the following hottest hashtag to seem is #deathtoamerica, which at time of publication had greater than 11.5 million views, with high posts containing pictures of burning American flags.
“We should always overthrow the federal government,” mentioned one TikToker utilizing that hashtag and a Palestinian flag emoji. “It will be humorous if it was run by Gen Z.” Different variations of “Letter to America” and “Osama Bin Laden” written in algospeak—small adjustments in spelling meant to evade detection by the platform—are pulling up comparable materials.
As protests, counterprotests and debates over the Israel-Gaza conflict sweep the world, TikTok has change into a key platform for these conversations—and it continues to develop as a high vacation spot for information. Two thirds of U.S. teenagers have used the platform, based on the Pew Analysis Middle. As extra People flip to TikTok for data within the midst of a conflict, and with a excessive stakes election lower than a 12 months away, issues are intensifying about TikTok’s Chinese language possession by Beijing-based mother or father firm ByteDance. Forbes reporting has revealed that the TikTok app has been used to surveil particular person People, form international discourse round polarizing political and social points and push divisive information concerning the American authorities.
Lots of the teenagers and younger creators utilizing TikTok had not but been born on the time of the September 11 assaults. Brian Fishman, former director of Fb’s staff countering terrorism and harmful organizations, advised Forbes, “the ‘Letter to America’ is propaganda and these children on TikTok haven’t solely fallen for it; they’re spreading it.”
“This story displays each unacceptable virality of reward for a murderous terrorist and an actual instructional failure in the USA in how we speak about al-Qaeda, the publish 9/11 period, and terrorism extra usually,” Fishman mentioned.
Terrorists “all the time have causes for his or her violence and typically they will level to at the very least some grievances which can be extra well known,” he mentioned. “That does not imply their violence is appropriate. However they use these grievances to justify and clarify violence and homicide concentrating on non-combatants. Bin Laden did that in spades. His group and associated jihadi teams murdered not simply 1000’s of People on 9/11 however tens, if not a whole bunch, of 1000’s of Muslims in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.”
The Guardian mentioned the transcript revealed on its web site in 2002 “has been broadly shared on social media with out the complete context” and “subsequently we have now determined to take it down and direct readers to the information article that initially contextualised it.”
Renee DiResta, a disinformation professional who manages analysis on the Stanford Web Observatory, mentioned Thursday on Threads that The Guardian mustn’t have taken down the letter “simply because some TikTokers made it a factor.”
“Silly selection,” she wrote. “Don’t flip the long-public ravings of a terrorist into forbidden data, one thing individuals really feel excited to go rediscover. Let individuals learn the assassin’s calls for—that is the person some TikTok fools selected to glorify. Add extra context.”
Replace, 2:40 p.m. ET: Shortly after publication of this story, the #lettertoamerica hashtag was taken down on TikTok’s cellular app. However on desktop, the place the hashtag remains to be seen, it has surpassed 15 million views.