heyn TikTok, Osama bin Laden’s more than two-decade-old letter to the United States about the September 11 terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans in 2001, is rapidly expanding to reach the platform’s 1 billion users.
The memo is spreading via the viral hashtag #lettertoamerica, a reference to bin Laden’s terrorist manifesto that calls for violence against Americans, Israelis and Jews, promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and condemns homosexuality.
The #lettertoamerica hashtag reached more than 2 million views on Wednesday evening. At the time of publication on Thursday, it had been viewed more than six times, or 13.9 million times. TikTok has denied that it is trending. “The number of videos on TikTok is low and reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate,” spokesperson Alex Haurek said in a statement Thursday. He said views have increased since the trend was reported in the media, leading to more people discovering the video.
“The material promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting terrorism of any kind,” Horeck said. “We are actively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it came to our platform.” He said that this problem is not only for TikTok. On X, formerly Twitter, “Bin Laden” was trending along with “Letter to America” and “TikTok” on Thursday. (In a former life, Emily Baker-White, the author of this story, held policy positions at Facebook and Spotify.)
The creators, who revisited bin Laden’s letter in light of the current war in Israel and Gaza, say the memo has forced them to question whether 9/11 was actually an act of terrorism. Many are pointing to the letter to suggest that America was right to attack that day because, according to them, the country was an occupier and oppressor of Palestine and other Arab countries. He also claims that one of the most accessible copies of this letter – a translation published by The Guardian in 2002 – was recently taken down to hide the story from people in the West.
‘Letter to America’ is a hype and these kids on TikTok have not only fallen for it; They are spreading it.
“I just read Letter to America and I will never look at life the same way, I will never look at this country the same way,” creator Kiana Leroux told her more than 1 million followers in a viral video on Wednesday. “My entire perspective on what I believed in and lived has changed.” (The video appears to have been removed Thursday morning.)
“I don’t think the US took down Osama bin Laden for 9/11 — no, I really don’t,” TikTok creator Alessia Francesca told her viewers in a video that now has more than 250,000 views. Has gone. “They took out Osama bin Laden because he was trying to open America’s eyes to this illegal occupation of the Palestinian people, that they were helping Israel, and that they were complicit in this illegal occupation and not letting them live. Palestinians for decades.”
“I’m very big into conspiracy theories, like really, really big,” she said, alleging that 9/11 was an inside job. “I’ve gone down an obsessive rabbit hole of 9/11 – I’ve done projects on this and other things, proving that America had something to do with it.”
When searching #lettertoamerica, the next most popular hashtag to appear is #deathtoamerica, which had over 11.5 million views at the time of publication, with the top posts featuring images of burning American flags.
“We must overthrow the government,” said one TikToker, using that hashtag and the Palestinian flag emoji. “It would be fun if it was driven by Gen Z.” Other variations of “Letter to America” and “Osama bin Laden” written in Algospeak – with small changes in spelling to avoid detection by the platform – are pulling similar content.
As protests, counter-protests, and debates over the Israel-Gaza war continue around the world, TikTok has become a vital platform for those conversations — and it’s evolving into a top destination for news. According to Pew Research Center, two-thirds of America’s teenagers have used this platform. As more Americans turn to TikTok for information in the midst of a war, and with a high-stakes election less than a year away, concerns about Chinese ownership of TikTok by Beijing-based parent company ByteDance are intensifying. Have been. forbes Reporting has shown that the TikTok app has been used to monitor individual Americans, shape the global discussion on polarizing political and social issues, and spread divisive news about the US government.
Many of the teens and young creators using TikTok were not even born at the time of the September 11 attacks. Brian Fishman, former director of Facebook’s team countering terrorism and dangerous organizations, told forbes, “‘Letter to America’ is propaganda and these kids on TikTok have not only fallen for it; They are spreading it.”
Fishman said, “This story reflects both the unacceptable virulence of praising a murderous terrorist and the real educational failure in the United States about the way we think about al-Qaeda, the post-9/11 era, and terrorism generally.” Let’s talk.”
He said, “Terrorists always have reasons for their violence and in most cases they can point to at least some grievances that are more widely recognized.” “This does not mean that their violence is acceptable. But they use those grievances to justify and explain violence and killing targeting non-combatants. Bin Laden did this many times. “His organization and related jihadist groups murdered not only thousands of Americans on 9/11, but hundreds if not thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.”
The Guardian said that the transcript published on its website in 2002 “has been widely shared on social media without full context” and “so we have decided to remove it and direct readers to the news article that published the original formally made it relevant.”
Renee DiResta, a disinformation expert who manages research at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said on threads Thursday that The Guardian should not have removed the letter “just because some TikTokers made it a thing.”
“Stupid choice,” she wrote. “Don’t turn long-standing public chatter about a terrorist into forbidden knowledge that people feel excited to rediscover. Let people read the killer’s demands—this is the same person some TikTok idiots chose to glorify. Add more context.”
Update, 2:40PM ET: Shortly after the publication of this story, the #lettertoamerica hashtag was removed from TikTok’s mobile app. But on desktop, where the hashtag is still visible, it has been viewed more than 15 million times.