The viral bin Laden trend that wasn't

How a "small group of nobodies" on TikTok sparked the latest social media panic.

The viral bin Laden trend that wasn't
A couple hundred videos on a video app with 150 million U.S. accounts. (New York Post)

Full story: How Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ reached millions online

It started with a small batch of videos of TikTokers urging people to read an Osama bin Laden manifesto from 2002.

But the “Letter to America” didn’t really become a trend until it was shared outside of TikTok — and stirred up a panic over how social media is warping American youth.

By Wednesday night, the letter had become a point of discussion among left-wing creators on the wildly popular video app, with some saying its critiques of American foreign policy had opened their eyes to a history they’d never learned.

But the letter didn’t rank among TikTok’s top trends. Videos with the #lettertoamerica hashtag had been seen about 2 million times — a relatively low count on a wildly popular app with 150 million accounts in the United States alone. ...

[A TikTok spokesperson] said that the #lettertoamerica hashtag had been attached to 274 videos that had garnered 1.8 million views on Tuesday and Wednesday, before “the tweets and media coverage drove people to the hashtag.” Other hashtags, for comparison, dwarfed discussion of the letter on the platform: During a recent 24-hour period, #travel videos had 137 million views, #skincare videos had 252 million views and #anime videos had 611 million views.

More to read

  • Garbage Day: “Baseless generational in-fighting, aging millennials who refuse to accept the new status quo of the internet, easily monetizable rage bait, lazy TikTok trend reporting, and bad faith political actors swirled together to create a perfect storm.”
  • Slate: “Small factions of people will always have repugnant ideas, express them, and—hopefully—feel the awesome weight of the world responding. But what we need to keep in mind is proportionality. A small group of nobodies on TikTok saying dumb shit is not a viral trend that necessitates mass hysteria in response.”
  • New York Magazine: “This was primarily not a TikTok thing. It’s a meta-story that gained purchase among people who are aware of and maybe worried about TikTok, who spend time on platforms where they occasionally see content ripped from TikTok but who don’t really spend much time there, if any at all.”

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