TikTok prohibits videos promoting bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’

TikTok will prohibit content that promotes Osama bin Laden’s 2002 letter detailing the former al-Qaeda leader’s justifications for attacks against Americans, the app said on Thursday.

Discussions of the 20-year-old letter have spread on the platform this week in the context of debate over the Israel-Hamas war, with some users in the West praising its contents.

The letter, which was written after al-Qaeda’s 2001 attack on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people, criticized U.S. support for Israel, accused Americans of financing “oppression” of Palestinians and contained antisemitic comments.

Bin Laden was killed in 2011 in Pakistan by a U.S. military special operations unit.

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

No results

A search for “Letter to America” on TikTok surfaced no results on Friday, with a notice that said the phrase may be associated with “content that violates our guidelines.”

Some U.S. lawmakers have called for a ban of the Chinese-owned app and had renewed their criticisms before Thursday’s announcement.

A phone screen with the TikTok app logo on it.
The TikTok logo is shown on an Apple iPhone. (Getty Images)

Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer said Wednesday on X, formerly Twitter, that TikTok was “pushing pro-terrorist propaganda to influence Americans.”

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement on Thursday: “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.”

On Wednesday, The Guardian removed the full text of bin Laden’s letter, which it had published in 2002. The news outlet said on its website that the letter was being shared on social media without full context, and that it would instead direct readers to the news article that originally reported on the letter.

TikTok said previously its recommendation algorithm does not push certain content to users, and that the company has removed hundreds of thousands of videos since Oct. 7 for violating policies against misinformation and promotion of violence.

It is difficult to gain a full understanding of how prevalent certain content is on TikTok, partly because external researchers have limited access to its data, said Renee DiResta, a research manager at Stanford Internet Observatory.

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