Why didn’t Twitter ban Khamenei when he suspended Trump for good?

DUBAI: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is known to have used his Twitter accounts to incite hatred, violence and disinformation. However, its many accounts in several languages ​​still exist on the platform.

These accounts, in languages ​​like Persian, English and Spanish, regularly post content that would – and should – violate Twitter policies.

In January, an account linked to Khamenei’s personal office posted a threatening graphic of ‘revenge’ while appearing to portray former President Trump in the shadow of an impending airstrike, which was retweeted by one of the accounts. Khamenei staff. Following a public backlash, Twitter suspended the account that posted the tweet but not the personal account.

He said he suspended the account due to a violation of his policy against fake accounts.

“The justification Twitter allegedly gave as to why it closed this particular account, but not others, was not just unconvincing, it was absurd,” David Weinberg, Washington director of international affairs at the US anti-hate organization Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Arab News reported.

“On the one hand, he was followed and frequently retweeted by other central Khamenei accounts (which were not suspended). He had also been allowed to promote all kinds of problematic content for six months until then. So why was it suddenly deleted – just a day or two after posting material inciting violence? ” he said.

In the aftermath of the incident, ADL wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, calling for all accounts linked to Khamenei to be moved without delay for repeated violations of Twitter’s rules prohibiting incitement to hatred and violence. .

The letter gave examples of how Khamenei’s tweets continually violated three specific policies – Glorification of Violence, Hateful Conduct and COVID-19 Misleading Information – and urged Twitter to suspend associated accounts.

Signed by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and Country Director of ADL, the letter ends:

“But given that you already suspended a US president from your platform earlier this month and just deleted one of Khamenei’s many Twitter accounts for his flagrant and threatening violations of Twitter policies, this standard must urgently be applied to the panoply of other Khamenei Twitter accounts. , which are so clearly a danger to public safety and regularly violate Twitter’s terms of service. “

Twitter took action last year against former President Donald Trump by adding fact-checking and violence tags to his tweets and permanently suspending his @realDonaldTrump account on January 8.

“After careful consideration of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them – particularly the way they are received and interpreted on and off Twitter – we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of incitement. additional violence, ”he said. .

However, when U.S. Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker asked Dorsey at a hearing last year about Khamenei’s tweets that “violence glorified,” Dorsey defended the decision to keep them unlabeled on the platform.

He said: “We did not find these violated our terms of service because we saw them as ‘saber-rattling’, which is part of the discourse of world leaders in concert with other countries. “

Weinberg commented: “The lesson learned time and time again from modern human history, as I read it, is that when a fanatical dictator responsible for the slaughter of thousands of his own citizens, as well as horrific violence, calls to genocide against the other, says what they are going to do, the international community must take this seriously; not just dismiss it as a difficult speech, posture or game in front of a national audience. “

He added that sometimes when “murderous fanatics” say they are going to commit genocide or eliminate countries or “demonize entire religions and nations”, it is genuine.

“It’s an expression of their true worldview and their true intention.”

This was around the same time that Twitter put labels on Trump’s tweets about widespread mail-voting fraud and other tweets that he said violated his policy “on glorifying based violence. on the historical context of the last line, its link with violence. , and the risk that this could inspire similar actions today. “

Responding to the senator about the double standard of labeling Trump’s tweets but not those of other world leaders, Dorsey said, “We saw the confusion this could encourage and we labeled it accordingly. The purpose of our labeling is to provide more context, to connect the dots so that people can have more information so that they can make decisions for themselves. “

On March 18, Twitter wrote in a blog post that it “called for public participation” on its approach to world leaders.

“Politicians and government officials are constantly evolving in the way they use our service, and we want our policies to remain relevant to the ever-changing nature of political discourse on Twitter and to protect the health of the public conversation.”

He said he was consulting human rights experts, civil society organizations and academics and released a public inquiry in 14 languages, including Arabic, English, Spanish and Farsi. .

“Ultimately our goal is to have a policy that appropriately balances basic human rights and takes into account the global context in which we operate,” the post said.

Critics wonder why Twitter does not apply the same policies to all users, whether they are private citizens or world leaders.

“Twitter should apply its terms of service to all users, whether they are private citizens, elected officials or unelected tyrants. Spreading hatred, glorifying terrorism and encouraging Holocaust denial should get you kicked out of Twitter for good, “Weinberg said in an ADL blog post titled” Twitter must dismantle Iran’s Supreme Leader. “

While there is certainly a public interest in being able to freely access a wide range of information, “it is not in the public interest that companies provide a platform to incite hatred and violence. He told Arab News.

Further, the public interest argument ignores the fact that “heads of state have their own ways of getting their message across” from their own websites and media to proxy organizations.

“Suggesting that Khamenei needs a Twitter account so that people can know about his hateful and murderous messages is not only in the public interest, but it ignores the fact that he has many other avenues to disseminate his propaganda,” Weinberg said.

This argument also misses the point that there is heavy censorship on Twitter in Iran.

“The bottom line in terms of information in the public interest, as far as the Iranian people are concerned, is that they should have free internet access, which their government does not allow.

Hearing titled “Nation of Disinformation: The Role of Social Media in Promoting Extremism and Disinformation” by the Energy and Trade Committee, scheduled for March 25, marks the start of a new investigation on the disinformation and disinformation that plague online platforms.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai will testify.

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