Yes, Osama bin Laden Went Viral on TikTok.
People acting like this didn't happen should be embarrassed.
A few days ago, Yashar Ali noticed a disturbing trend on TikTok: people sharing little testimonials about how revelatory they found Osama bin Laden’s 2002 “Letter to America.”
Yashar cut some of them together in a clip and shared it. This is a thing that journalists do.
The backlash to the Osama-curious TikTokers was fast and furious, and Yashar’s story itself went viral.
The concerns raised by the kidz requesting the DJ play 9/11 are numerous:
these kids are idiots.
these kids are too confident about their idiotic beliefs.
these overly confident idiotic kids are an extreme illustration of many worrying trends among the youthful left.
overly confident left-wing kids have always existed but, like with all things, there is a possibility for contagion thanks to social media
there is already a great deal of special concern about this particular social media platform because it is owned by commie China and Americans are increasingly getting their news and opinions from it.
There is this thing going on the Middle East right now and many people who are none to happy with Israel are not totally excited about the fact that other people unhappy with Israel decided to say, “and you know who else agreed with us about Israel? Noted thinker Osama bin Laden.”
In short, a lot of people who don’t have brain damage didn’t like the “Osama? Finally, a Nepo baby who gets it” videos and expressed their opinion that actually, bin Laden is bad and, to a much lesser extent, so are the fuck-up kids who made these fucked up videos.
Embarrassed, TikTok began pulling down the videos and banning the hashtag. TikTok also got on the phone to every tech journalist in America and was like, also you know there were only a few hundred of those videos and they were only watched a few million times.
Traditionally when big social media companies make arguments like this in response to complaints from watchdogs and journalists about various bad trends on their platforms, tech journalists for the last 8 years or so have been highly suspect. Can’t trust these Silicon Valley bigwigs! They aren’t in the truth business! They’re in the making money and covering their own asses business! The stats are cooked! They are using misleading or narrow definitions of engagement terms! This random activist group in the Netherlands says it’s possible many more people saw the bad content!
Social media companies, in fact, have such a terrible relationship with the press that it’s become a meta-controversy in and of itself. Tech companies feel like they are treated unfairly by a tech press that hates them and the tech press thinks it’s insulting that the industry they cover expects them to be whores.
Or that was the case.
Apparently, things have changed and some tech journalists now love social media companies and value their insightful press releases and selective data dumps. That is the only conclusion I can draw from the fact that, in this case, a number of outlets decided for the first time in their entire lives that this particular bad viral social media trend is not meaningful at all. Viral? Take a chill pill, gramps!
It’s just a couple kooks! Nothing to get bent out of shape about! Really insulting to act like these people’s ideas are popular with any portion of the Left!
Many liberals of enough esteem to at least be retweeted into my feed by people who should know better went further and suggested Yashar deviously mislead everyone by nut-picking some random whackos in an evil attempt to embarrass the anit-colonial(?) left or some shit.
Yashar was just laundering right-wing talking points! Might as well go work for Fox News!
Here is the Nation’s Jeet Heer: “ Congrats to everyone who played into Yashar Ali's game and promoted a bogus story just because it catered to your prejudices against young people & social media. Good work guys.”
Most of the “nothing to see here” crowd seems to have stopped short of this sort of thing, comfortable merely questioning Yashar’s definition of the world viral.
Take Slate, for example. Their story is directly framed as a critique of the stupid journalists at CNN and the NYT who fell for this because actually only some small-town shnook would think a trend this minor was viral.
The author begins by pointing out that he personally isn’t in al-Qaeda.
Sure, the sentiment these videos expressed is nauseating.
But so is a lot of stuff on the internet, and to call out these particular pieces of content is to misunderstand TikTok and to grossly mischaracterize the chain of events that brought this phenomenon before a mass audience.
The dude points out that according to CNN and the NYT, the videos received around 14 million views, and that a TikTok spokesman told the Washington Post that there were only 274 videos in the first place.
“Less than 300 videos?” the author asks incredulously. “14 million views total? On TikTok, those are paltry numbers.
To call these pro-Osama videos viral, however, would be a stretch. TikTok’s algorithm is known for supersizing virality, often lifting seemingly random content to ungodly heights quicker than any other platform. These videos seem to have received some kind of boost—but far short of what TikTok is capable of.
The writer then goes on to note that on Twitter, people upset about these videos received way more impressions, hence his second main argument: it’s the backlash wot won it.
The backlash went viral, you see, and then angry people went and watched the videos and the numbers on the videos increased further, and, so blah blah blah, you must conclude that the trend of people wearing Osama band shirts is meaningless and says nothing at all important about the left.
Of course, the backlash was greater! The backlash is always greater. That’s one of the many reasons if you have bad thoughts like, “Osama bin Laden opened my eyes and taught me it was ok to be weird,” you should probably keep them to yourself!
But that is not the most ridiculous part of this. The most ridiculous part is the whole “you think this is a good steak? You’ve clearly never been to a good steakhouse” discussion of virality.
300 posts? Thousands of likes? A mere 14 million views? I guess that’s probably an impressive time in the Paralympics.
You may remember that after the 2016 election, it came out that Russia had orchestrated a disinformation campaign on Facebook to sew division in the US. The misleading named Internet Research Agency tried to accomplish this in a number of different ways but one of the ways was by paying to boost their evil posts into people’s feeds. When this whole scheme came out, this particular paid promotion aspect was a key point of outrage because it sort of implicated Facebook the company. Ol’ Zuck getting rich off Russian propganda!
Unlike the Kremlin, with whom American activists have very little sway, Facebook was eventually cowed by this criticism so much that it completely changed how it does political ads.
Those ads that set all that off? They were seen by up to 10 million people.
Some people at the time pointed out that the freakout was an overreaction and the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot, but not these people.
These people thought it was really significant! Millions of words, stained in spittle and stoked in fury, were spent on the fact that Facebook had let that happen.
Many many many liberals in the salad days of 2017 truly believed that Russia’s Facebook trolls or Cambridge Analytica’s social media targeting really did change enough votes to sway the election.
And we can’t know if that’s true or not. It sounds ridiculous to me and it always has, but if you think it is what happened, I support your right to do so. I can’t disprove it. But let me tell you something I learned in my fancy education:
10 million is considerably less than 14 million, says math.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Calm Down to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.