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Tuesday December 05, 2023

TikTok 'aggressively' removing Osama bin Laden's viral 'Letter to America' videos

Discussions on "letter to America" have proliferated on TikTok amid ongoing Israel-Hamas war

By Web Desk
November 17, 2023
An undated file picture of Osama Bin Laden. — AFP/File
An undated file picture of Osama Bin Laden. — AFP/File

TikTok said that it is "proactively and aggressively removing" content that links to Osama Bin Laden's 2002 "Letter to America", which details the former Al-Qaeda leader's rationale for attacks against Americans.

This week, discussions on the 20-year-old letter have proliferated on the site amid the ongoing debate over the Israel-Hamas conflict, with some Western users commending its contents.

Written in the wake of Al-Qaeda's almost 3,000-person attack on US soil, the letter featured antisemitic remarks, accused Americans of funding "oppression" of Palestinians, and denounced US backing for Israel.

In Pakistan in 2011, a US military special operations squad killed Bin Laden.

"Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism," TikTok said, adding that reports that it was "trending" on the platform were inaccurate.

"This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media," it said, adding that it is "investigating how it got onto our platform".

On Thursday, a search on TikTok for "Letter to America" produced no results, along with a warning that the term could be linked to "content that violates our guidelines".

Before Thursday's announcement, a few US legislators had reiterated their calls for the Chinese-owned app to be banned.

On Wednesday, Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer said that TikTok was "pushing pro-terrorist propaganda to influence Americans" on X, formerly Twitter.

The full text of Bin Laden's 2002 letter was taken down by Guardian on Wednesday. The news organisation stated on its website that visitors would be sent to the news piece that first covered the letter, as the letter was being circulated on social media without the whole context.

"This page previously displayed a document containing, in translation, the full text of Osama Bin Laden's 'letter to the American people', which was reported on in the Observer on Sunday, Nov 24, 2002," it wrote.

"The transcript published on our website had been widely shared on social media without the full context. Therefore we decided to take it down and direct readers instead to the news article that originally contextualised it."

According to a prior statement from TikTok, the firm has deleted hundreds of thousands of videos since October 7 due to violations of laws prohibiting the spread of false information and the encouragement of violence.