Videos on TikTok supporting a decades-old letter by Osama bin Laden criticizing the United States and its support of Israel surged in popularity this week, adding to accusations that the company is fueling the spread of antisemitic content. The White House condemned the resurfacing of the letter.
The letter, titled “Letter to America,” was published a year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that were orchestrated by Bin Laden. He defended the attacks in New York and Washington and said Americans had become “servants” to Jews, who he said controlled the country’s economy and media. American taxpayers, he wrote, were complicit in harming Muslims in the Middle East, including destroying Palestinian homes.
Some TikTok users said this week that they viewed the document as an awakening to America’s role in global affairs and expressed their disappointment in the United States. One popular video showed a TikTok user brushing her hair with the caption, “When you read Osama bin Laden’s letter to America and you realize you’ve been lied to your whole entire life.”
One video with nearly 100,000 likes showed a TikTok user at her kitchen sink with the caption: “Trying to go back to life as normal after reading Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ and realizing everything we learned about the Middle East, 9/11, and ‘terrorism’ was a lie.” In a video with more than 60,000 views, another user said the letter showed her that America was a “plague on the entire world.”
Early Thursday, a search for #lettertoamerica showed videos with 14.2 million views. By midday, as TikTok sought to block the content, searches on the site for “osama bin laden,” “bin laden letter” and “osama letter” and the hashtag #lettertoamerica yielded no results on the “videos” tab of TikTok, though some videos were still viewable with some digging.
Alex Haurek, a spokesman for TikTok, said that “content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism,” and that the company was “aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform.”
He said that most of the views came after news organizations wrote about the videos and that the letter had also “appeared across multiple platforms and the media.”
The White House weighed in on Thursday, saying “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.”
“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,” Andrew J. Bates, a deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement. “Particularly now, at a time of rising antisemitic violence in the world, and just after Hamas terrorists carried out the worst slaughter of the Jewish people since the Holocaust in the name of the same conspiracy theories.”
A transcript of bin Laden’s letter posted on The Guardian in 2002 became the second-most-viewed page on its site on Wednesday, leading the news organization to remove it from the site.
“The transcript published on our website in 2002 has been widely shared on social media without the full context,” said Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for The Guardian. “Therefore, we have decided to take it down and direct readers to the news article that originally contextualized it instead.”
The removal by The Guardian fueled yet another wave of videos about the letter on TikTok, though, feeding into conspiracy theories that the publicly available document was somehow being hidden from users.
The letter was also brought up in a private meeting between TikTok executives and Jewish TikTok creators and celebrities on Wednesday night, where creators urged the company to do more to address a surge of antisemitism and harassment on the app. “This app needs to ban this letter,” one creator said.
The Israel-Hamas war has put TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, back in Washington’s cross hairs. The company has been accused of amplifying pro-Palestinian and antisemitic content, and the rise of videos around the Bin Laden letter have resurfaced accusations that the app is working to push the interests of the Chinese government.
Some Republican lawmakers have renewed their calls to ban the app. Republican lawmakers like Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri shared videos tied to the letter on social media this week. On X, Mr. Hawley called TikTok “a geyser of terrorist propaganda — and the most effective surveillance tool for a foreign government ever invented.”