A peculiar discussion “Letter to America” made rounds on TikTok, on 15 November, causing an uproar among young American citizens. Consequently, the viral nature of the situation on TikTok has prompted serious questions regarding why and how it happened.
However, TikTok stated that the talks of the topic going viral on the platform are not entirely true.
“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.”TikTok
Aside from that, the platform issued a statement on X, setting the record straight on its stance on the topic.
“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.”TikTok
The “Letter to America”
In 2002, slain terrorist Osama Bin Laden wrote the Letter to America. The letter not only critiqued the United States but also justified al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack. A translated copy of the letter was first published by The Guardian in 2002. However, the news site promptly removed the letter on Wednesday after it went viral.
“The letter published on our website 20 years ago has been widely shared on social media without the full context. Therefore we have decided to take it down and direct readers to the news article that originally contextualized it instead.”The Guardian
On September 11, 2001, approximately 19 terrorists hijacked commercial airliners in the USA and intentionally crashed planes. The attack killed about 3,000 people in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. Osama, the man who orchestrated the attack, stated in his letter that he did it as punishment for the US Cold War era.
“It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you (USA) have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine.”Osama Bin Laden
According to Laden, the Cold War era meddled with the Middle East. As a result, Israel occupied Palestinian land and oppressed Palestinian people for decades. He asserted that America’s support for Israel’s invasion was a violation of the UN’s international law. Additionally, the letter also reasserts conspiracy theories that HIV/AIDS is a “Satanic American Invention.”
Reactions over the “Letter to America”
A majority of American citizens between Wednesday and Thursday posted videos on TikTok promoting the letter. Some sympathized with the terrorist’s claim while others condemned users for promoting terrorism. Many videos shared under the hashtag #lettertoamerica urged users to read the letter. According to reports, these videos garnered up to 14 million views.
This letter further fueled criticisms of Joe Biden’s support of Israel in attacking Gaza. A section of netizens went further and expounded on the role played by the US government in the ongoing war. One video by an American lifestyle influencer, which had 1.6 million views, urged others to read the letter.
“If you have read it, let me know if you are also going through an existential crisis in this very moment, because in the last 20 minutes, my entire viewpoint on the entire life I have believed, and I have lived, has changed.”
Another video, which had over 100,000 views, had the following to say about the letter. “If we’re going to call Osama bin Laden a terrorist, so is the American government.”
Nonetheless, experts have criticized sentiments that are in support of the letter. Peter Bergen, the man who produced Osama’s first TV interview in 1997, remarked that the circulation of the letter is “puzzling.” Additionally, he said that most people discussing the letter lack sufficient historical context of 9/11.
Bergen is doubtful of the letter’s origin and mentioned to CNN reporters that, “There’s no proof it was written by bin Laden and some of the things that he focuses on are inconsistent with his other writings.” As a CNN National Security Analyst, Peter Bergen has authored several books on the deceased terrorist.
Why the letter went viral
As per a KFF survey, most TikTok users are under 30 years old and were either born after the 9/11 attack or were very young then. Also, TikTok is gaining popularity among the young generation as a “news platform.”
Pew Research Center confirmed that about a third of Americans aged 18-29 get news from TikTok. Aside from that, the percentage of US adults using the app as a news source has risen from 3% to 14% in three years.
Moreover, this is not the first time TikTok has faced controversy over what has gone viral in the app. Earlier, Republican criticisms asserted that the platform shows bias towards “pro-Palestinian content.”
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This conclusion arose after polls on the platform showed that younger people are more sympathetic to Palestinians. According to reports, tens of thousands of Americans have publicly expressed their support for Israel. However, hundreds of thousands have held pro-Palestine protests in the streets, demanding a ceasefire.
Additionally, Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, stated that TikTok heavily pushes for high engagement at all costs. Imran stated, “TikTok is utterly ruthless about whether it uses hate, disinformation, or positive content to keep you addicted. The smart takes aren’t the ones that succeed. It is the dumb takes that get the most virality on a platform like TikTok.”