The short-form video app TikTok says it will now start prohibiting content that promotes former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's infamous "Letter to America" after it went viral online.
TikTok users this week have been sharing a link to The Guardian's transcript of the letter, which was written in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead and 6,000 others injured. The contents of the 20-year-old letter — which includes antisemitic rhetoric and criticizes U.S. influence in the Middle East — have been used as context to debate the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, with some users online sympathizing with bin Laden's statements.
"Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism," TikTok said Thursday in a statement. "We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform."
The company added that the number of videos on its platform promoting the letter was "small" and called reports of it trending "inaccurate." The hashtag #lettertoamerica has also been removed from the app's search function.
TikTok is widely popular among younger Americans, many of whom were born after the Sept. 11 attacks when 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and in rural Pennsylvania. Now, the alleged virality of bin Laden letter is renewing criticism of the Chinese-owned app.
"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," White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told CNN.
TikTok has previously said that its algorithm does not promote certain content to users and that it has removed hundreds of thousands of posts that violate its policies against misinformation or violence. However, in a recent letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, European Union commissioner Thierry Breton said it appears the app is being used to "disseminate illegal content and disinformation" about the conflict in the Middle East.
He also said the app being used as a source of news means "reliable sources should be adequately differentiated from terrorist propaganda," including separating falsified images and facts from true information.
Some U.S. leaders have called for a total ban of TikTok in America but, so far, only Montana and a small number of cities and companies have taken steps to prohibit use of the app. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center — even among TikTok users — 42% say they believe the platform is a national security concern.
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