UPDATED, with White House comment: TikTok announced today that it was removing videos that have popped up on the platform in which users of various ages and ethnicities promote Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America,” which he had written to justify the attacks on 9/11.
“Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism,” TikTok said in a message posted on X/Twitter. “We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform.”
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The platform, however, disputed the extent to which the videos went viral, calling reports of them trending as “inaccurate.”
“This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media,” the company said.
TikTok referred to a post from journalist Yashar Ali, who on Wednesday alerted the presence of the videos on the platform.
“The TikToks are from people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Many of them say that reading the letter has opened their eyes, and they’ll never see geopolitical matters the same way again,” Ali wrote.
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… https://t.co/n9Zo7l94r2
— TikTok Policy (@TikTokPolicy) November 16, 2023
The Guardian had the full text of Bin Laden’s on their website since 2002, but took it down on Wednesday. “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,” the publication said.
Politicians already have targeted TikTok for its ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) last week accused the platform of pushing pro-Hamas propaganda and linked it to Beijing’s effort to “manipulate the internet in its favor and to our detriment.”
TikTok denies that it was promoting one side of an issue of another. In a blog post, the company said that during the month of October, it “removed more than 925,000 videos in the conflict region for violating our policies around violence, hate speech, misinformation, and terrorism, including content promoting Hamas.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement, “There is never a justification for spreading the repugnant, evil, and antisemitic lies that the leader of al Qaeda issued just after committing the worst terrorist attack in American history – highlighting them as his direct motivation for murdering 2,977 innocent Americans.”
Bates added, “And 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.”
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