Nikki Haley ratcheted up her calls this week for the U.S. government to ban TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media platform, after some users, weighing in on the war between Israel and Hamas, promoted “Letter to America,” a text written by Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Ms. Haley, a Republican presidential contender and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Donald J. Trump, argued that the document was another example of foreign adversaries using social media to spread anti-American propaganda to young people.
“That’s why you have to ban TikTok,” Ms. Haley said at a town hall in Newton, Iowa, on Friday. “Nepal just came out yesterday, and they’re banning it because they see what’s happening in their country. India did it. Why are we the last ones to do it?”
In bin Laden’s letter, the mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed nearly 3,000 people, defended the terrorists’ actions. He wrote that American taxpayers had been complicit in harming Muslims in the Middle East, including destroying Palestinian homes. He also said that Americans were “servants” to Jews, who controlled the country’s economy and media. Bin Laden was killed by U.S. military and intelligence operatives in 2011.
In a statement on X, TikTok responded to Ms. Haley’s calls for a ban — which she also posted on social media Thursday — by saying that the circulation of bin Laden’s letter violated the platform’s rules banning support for terrorism and that it was policing related content accordingly.
“We are proactively and aggressively removing this content and investigating how it got onto our platform,” the company said. “The number of videos on TikTok is small and reports of it trending on our platform are inaccurate.”
A spokesman for the company told The New York Times on Thursday that most of the views of the videos came after news organizations wrote about them, and that the letter had also “appeared across multiple platforms and the media.”
Ms. Haley’s crusade against TikTok has become a flashpoint in the Republican presidential race, coinciding with her rise in the polls. Mr. Trump, her former boss, continues to be the overwhelming front-runner, but Ms. Haley, a former South Carolina governor, is trying to overtake Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida for second place.
At the Republican debate last week in Miami, she clashed with Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech entrepreneur, over calls for a TikTok ban. He mentioned that her daughter had an account on the platform, drawing Ms. Haley’s ire and leading her to call Mr. Ramaswamy “scum.”
Ms. Haley has knocked Mr. Ramaswamy for joining TikTok after he had previously referred to the app as “digital fentanyl.” In the days following the debate, she has contended that social media platforms should better police certain users and content, prompting criticism from some of her rivals. Her call on Tuesday for social media companies to verify the identity of users and to bar people from posting anonymously was panned by Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Ramaswamy and others as unconstitutional and a threat to free speech.
“You know who were anonymous writers back in the day?” Mr. DeSantis wrote on X. “Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison when they wrote the Federalist Papers.”
Ms. Haley told CNBC a day later that her comments were directed at foreign adversaries, not Americans.
At town halls for her campaign in Iowa on Thursday and Friday, Ms. Haley continued to press on TikTok and brought up the letter by bin Laden.
“Now you have members of our younger generation, they’re saying now they understand why he did it. That’s disgusting,” she said at a town hall in Newton on Friday. “That’s not America doing that. That’s China doing that.”
Ms. Haley has assailed what she calls “foreign infiltration” into American society by hostile governments. She has particularly focused on propaganda and disinformation, which she says is being distributed by China, Russia and Iran to young Americans through TikTok and other social media platforms. She has also argued that young Americans are more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause because of “pro-Hamas videos on TikTok.”
She has also hammered the rise of Chinese investment in communities across the country, particularly the acquisition of farmland and agricultural technology — an acute anxiety in rural states like Iowa.
Linda Schroeder, of Dubuque, said Ms. Haley’s focus on the issue is what put the candidate over the top as her choice.
“Why are we allowing it? For them to be here,” Ms. Schroeder said after hearing from Ms. Haley. “I grew up with 14 other siblings on a farm, and we still have the farm, and we’ll keep it.”