TikTok finds itself embroiled in controversy as the social media giant rushes to scrub videos promoting a 21-year-old letter penned by Osama bin Laden justifying the 9/11 attacks. The social media giant has declared it is “proactively and aggressively” taking down content related to the 2002 letter, which resurfaced on the platform earlier this week.
The letter, originally published by The Guardian two decades ago, resurfaced on TikTok, sparking a heated debate and drawing in users of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Despite TikTok’s efforts to curb the dissemination of the controversial content, videos dissecting and responding to Bin Laden’s “Letter to America” gained substantial traction, particularly amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. The hashtag #lettertoamerica amassed over 10 million views before TikTok took action, blocking searches for it.
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TikTok users began sharing excerpts from the two-page document, emphasizing bin Laden’s ideological stance and motivations behind orchestrating the 9/11 terror attacks. Among the notable revelations in the letter, bin Laden attributed the 9/11 attacks to America’s support of Israel, accusing the U.S. of forming alliances to oppress and occupy Muslim lands.
The TikTok trend gained momentum when influencer Lynnette Adkins, with nearly 12 million followers, urged users to read the letter, expressing her sense of going through an “existential crisis.” Responses varied from users claiming their eyes were opened to assertions that they had been misled about historical events.
The controversy spilled over to X (formerly Twitter) when writer Yashar Ali shared a supercut of these videos, garnering over 11,000 retweets and a whopping 23.8 million views. Ali highlighted the diverse range of contributors, noting that many claimed the letter had opened their eyes to geopolitical matters in a new light.
However, TikTok countered claims that the letter’s videos were trending, asserting that the number was smaller than reported and highlighting that similar occurrences were observed on various platforms and in the media.
There is also a growing chorus of voices is condemning the trend on TikTok that seeks to justify the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Critics express concern over the normalisation of content rationalising acts of terrorism.
In response to the unexpected revival of Bin Laden’s letter, The Guardian, which originally published the text in 2002, removed it on November 15, 2023. The media outlet cited the widespread sharing of the transcript on social media without proper context as the reason for removal, redirecting readers to the initial news article for context.
Meanwhile, the White House condemned the spread of what it called “repugnant, evil, and antisemitic lies” from the al Qaeda leader, emphasizing that there is never justification for disseminating such content.
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