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TikTok responds to reports of users sharing letter from bin Laden

Company claims spread of videos is exaggerated – but says it is removing them ‘proactively and aggressively’

Andrew Griffin
Friday 17 November 2023 11:28 GMT
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Europe Digital Rules (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TikTok is “proactively and aggressively” removing posts seemingly glorifying Osama bin Laden, it has said.

A series of videos that shared a letter from bin Laden justifying the 9/11 attacks were published across the platform, and TikTok said it was “investigating” how it had happened.

But it also said that reports about the spread of the posts had been exaggerated, and that the number of videos was actually small.

The controversy began in recent days after a host of videos were highlighted by journalist Yashar Ali, in a tweet. He said there were “thousands of TikToks (at least)” that shared the letter from bin Laden.

“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,” he said. “Many of them — and I have watched a lot — say it has made them reevaluate their perspective on how what is often labeled as terrorism can be a legitimate form of resistance to a hostile power.”

The tweet led to criticism of TikTok as well as its users, including from the White House. “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,” a spokesperson said.

TikTok said however that the spread of the posts had been relatively limited and that it was not true that the videos were trending.

“Content promoting this letter clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism,” the company wrote on its TikTok account. “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 platform are inaccurate. This is not unique to TikTok and has appeared across multiple platforms and the media.”

TikTok does not provide readily accessible information about the spread of posts on its platform. Some of the videos had tens of thousands of likes and views.

Many of the TikToks pointed to a copy of the letter that had been posted on The Guardian’s website. As it began to spread, the newspaper removed the page, replacing it with a note that it was lacking “the full context” and instead directed readers to a news article about the original letter.

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