A decades-old letter of Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is going viral on TikTok after some users posted it on the video sharing platform and re-shared it on X (formerly Twitter). TikTok has removed the hashtag #lettertoamerica (with over 2 million views) from its search after bin Laden’s 2002 ‘Letter to America’ sparked a debate about US support to Israel in its current conflict with Hamas, reported NBC News. Some social media users suggested that the Al Qaeda founder’s document gives an alternative perspective about the US’ involvement in conflicts in the Middle East – something that has been criticised by the White House.
The issue gained prominence after users started sharing link to The Guardian’s transcript of the letter, which was written a year after the September 11, 2001 attacks in which more than 3,000 people were killed. The Guardianremoved the 21-year-old letter from its website.
In the letter, bin Laden addressed the American people and sought to answer the following questions: “Why are we fighting and opposing you?” and “What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?” The letter includes anti-semitic language, as per NBC News.
The letter sparked a debate on social media about the validity and morality of bin Laden’s letter, with some expressing sympathy while others condemning or mocking it.
People discussing the letter said it caused them to re-evaluate their beliefs around US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also said they are not praising or defending bin Laden’s orchestration of the 9/11 attacks.
TikTok’s critics argued that it was evidence that the app, owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance, had been secretly boosting propaganda to a captive audience of American youth.
Bin Laden’s letter also criticised US support for Israel and accuses the US of aiding the oppression of Palestinian people. The Al Qaida chief also criticised US interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Chechnya and Lebanon, as per The Washington Post.
Bin Laden, who was killed in a US special operation in Pakistan in 2011.
The White House has criticised the sharing of the message, saying “no one should ever insult the 2,977 American families still mourning loved ones by associating themselves with the vile words of Osama bin Laden”.
Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is among the politicians who have criticised the letter, calling for social media reform.
“When you look at social media, I have long said that we have to ban TikTok. And if you didn’t know why, there’s another example today,” Ms Haley, a 2024 GOP presidential primary candidate, told Fox News.
TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe said that videos featuring bin Laden’s letter violate the platform’s guidelines.
“Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism. We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform. The number of videos on TikTok is small and reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate. This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media,” he said.