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How Bin Laden’s “letter to America,” glorified by young people, went viral on TikTok

  • The “letter to America,” attributed to Osama bin Laden, has found new popularity in recent days among American millennials, against the backdrop of the war between Israel and Hamas.
  • On Thursday, TikTok began actively removing these videos, saying they violated its charter prohibiting “support for any form of terrorism.”
  • If American opinion mainly supports Israel, 18-34 year olds, particularly active on TikTok, lean in favor of the Palestinians at 52% (compared to 29% in favor of the Hebrew state).

“Go read this letter, I am in the middle of an existential crisis”, “It opened my eyes”, “Everything we learned about the Middle East, 9/11 and “terrorism” was a lie “. In multiple videos published on TikTok – but also on Instagram – young Americans have shared their astonishment in recent days at a 2002 letter attributed to Osama Bin Laden, which justified the September 11 attacks, which left nearly 3,000 dead , as a response to the imperialism of the United States and the “oppression” of Muslims, particularly in Palestine. Propaganda taken out of context 21 years later, which finds a new resonance with millennials, in the midst of the Hamas-Israel war.

Accused of amplifying the phenomenon to sow discord in the West, TikTok, which is threatened with a ban in the United States, ensures that videos “supporting terrorism” are actively deleted. For his part, the Guardian deleted its translation of the letter (archived here), instead referring to an article offering more “context” to the Islamist terrorist’s propaganda.

Step 1: Videos published last week related to the conflict between Hamas and Israel

According to Google Trends search volumes, the phenomenon remained marginal last week.

The first videos published on TikTok drew a parallel between the situation of the Palestinians today, in the midst of the conflict between Hamas and Israel, and that described twenty years ago by the former leader of Al-Qaeda, killed in 2011 in Pakistan during an operation authorized by Barack Obama.

Step 2: An influencer boosts the letter Tuesday

On Tuesday, a New York lifestyle influencer, Lynette Adkins, who had 177,000 followers but has since deleted her account, shared her opinion in a video titled “I’m not okay.” She calls on her subscribers to go read the letter, saying she is going through an “existential crisis”. The video has been viewed 1.6 million times. Viral mimicry takes effect, the subject explodes.

Step 3: “The Guardian” deletes the translation of the letter on Wednesday

Main source of this rediscovery, the Guardian deletes his translation of the letter. Unsurprisingly, the “Streisand” effect – according to which any attempt to censor or delete information on the Internet makes it even more popular – is in full force. “This transcript posted on our website has been widely shared on social media without the full context. We therefore decided to remove it and instead redirect our readers to the article which originally contextualized it,” specifies the newspaper.

Step 4: An American journalist criticizes the phenomenon (and blows it up)

Yashar Ali, an American journalist followed by more than 700,0000 people on X, denounces the phenomenon and shares a compilation of TikTok videos, noting that he has seen “thousands” of them. According to his research, many users say that bin Laden’s letter “led them to reevaluate their perspective on what is often presented as terrorism, and which may be a form of legitimate resistance to a hostile power.” Yashar Ali’s video is being picked up everywhere. The volume of articles archived by Google doubles immediately.

Step 5: TikTok cracks down on Thursday and deletes videos

“Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism,” TikTok explains. The international subsidiary of the Chinese group Bytedance, which has headquarters in Los Angeles and one in Singapore, deletes most of the videos and hashtags devoted to Bin Laden’s letter. Contrary to what critics of TikTok say, there is no evidence at this time that the viral phenomenon was orchestrated or promoted by the company. The most popular testimonials seem to come from long-standing, authentic accounts.

20 seconds of context

If American opinion remains predominantly pro-Israel (54%, compared to 24% pro-Palestinians, and 22% without opinion), according to a Quinnipiac University survey (pdf) published Thursday, there are generational and major policies. 18-34 year olds, particularly active on TikTok, lean in favor of the Palestinians at 52% (compared to 29% in favor of the Hebrew state). On the political party side, the Republicans support the Jewish state at 80%. More Democrats, however, sympathize with the Palestinians (41%) than with Israel (34%).

Gn Fr world

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