"Go read this letter, I'm in the middle of an existential crisis", "It opened my eyes", "Everything we learned about the Middle East, 11/9 and 'terrorism' was a lie". In multiple videos posted on TikTok — but also on Instagram — young Americans have shared their surprise in recent days to discover that Osama bin Laden published a "letter to America" in 2002, justifying the 11/3 attacks, which killed nearly 000,21 people, as a response to U.S. imperialism and the "oppression" of Muslims. especially in Palestine. This propaganda has been taken out of context <> years later, and has found a new resonance with young people, 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, assures that videos "supporting terrorism" are actively removed. For its part, the Guardian deleted its translation of the letter, instead linking to an article offering more "context" to the Islamist terrorist's propaganda.
Step 1: Videos released last week related to the conflict between Hamas and Israel
According to Google Trends search volumes, the phenomenon remained marginal last week.
There are folks in my replies saying that Google Trends proves it was already going viral before it was shared on Twitter/X. I marked below when it was tweeted. Yes, there was some interest — I never said there wasn't — but it was plateauing. After the tweet the interest doubled. pic.twitter.com/m6gqcBzNQx
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) November 16, 2023
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The first videos posted on TikTok drew parallels between the situation of Palestinians today, in the midst of the conflict between Hamas and Israel, and the one described twenty years ago by the former leader of Al-Qaeda, who was killed in 2011 in Pakistan in an operation authorized by Barack Obama.
Step 2: An influencer boosts the letter on Tuesday
On Tuesday, 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 Well." She
calls on his followers to go read the letter, saying he 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 translation of letter on Wednesday
The main source of this rediscovery, the Guardian, deletes its translation of bin Laden's letter. Unsurprisingly, the "Streisand" effect – whereby any attempt to censor information on the Internet makes it even more popular – is in full swing. "This transcript posted on our website was widely shared on social media without the full context. We have therefore decided to remove it and instead redirect our readers to the article that originally contextualized it," the newspaper said.
Step 4: An American journalist criticizes the phenomenon on Wednesday (and blows it up)
Yashar Ali, an American journalist followed by more than 700,0000 people on X, denounced the phenomenon and shared a compilation of TikTok videos, noting that he had seen "thousands" of them. According to his research, many users claim that bin Laden's letter "led them to reassess their perspective on what is often portrayed as terrorism, and which may be a legitimate form of resistance to a hostile power." Yashar Ali's video is used everywhere. The volume of articles archived by Google doubled in the process.
Step 5: TikTok cracks down on Thursday and deletes videos
"Content promoting this letter clearly violates our policies on supporting any form of terrorism," TikTok said. 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 claim, 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 genuine accounts that have been around for a long time.
20 seconds of context
While American opinion remains overwhelmingly pro-Israel (54 percent, 24 percent pro-Palestinian, and 22 percent unpolled), according to a Quinnipiac University poll (pdf) released Thursday, there are major generational and political divisions. 18-34 year olds, who are particularly active on TikTok, lean in favor of the Palestinians at 52% (compared to 29% in favor of the Jewish state). As far as political parties are concerned, Republicans support Israel at 80%. More Democrats, on the other hand, sympathize with the Palestinians (41 percent) than with Israel (34 percent).
- By the Web
- Osama bin Laden
- Israeli-Palestinian conflict