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Amy Swain

August 10, 2020

Summary

Censorship of politicians has become a hot topic as of late, specifically concerning Twitter vs Trump. The president’s cherished platform began censoring him after his tweets concerning Black Lives Matter protests seemed to incite violence. Now, however, Twitter is facing backlash for its seemingly selective policies on political statements.

Several tweets from Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been brought forward of evidence of this. A post of his from May 21 read “The only remedy until the removal of the Zionist regime is firm, armed resistance.” The tweet, among others, echoed some of Trump’s. This encouraged Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen to send a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey requesting Khamenei be banned from the platform. Twitter offered a response letter explaining why they would not be complying with the request, including their commitment to serving the public conversation.

Their denial prompted discussion of the company’s policies at a recent hearing of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem on July 29. Human rights attorney Arsen Ostrovsky asked Twitter’s Ylwa Pettersson: “You have recently started flagging the tweets of President Trump. Why have you not flagged the tweets of Iran’s Ayatollah Khameini, who has literally called for the genocide of Israel and the Jewish people?” Pettersson responded that the two situations are not the same, citing portions of the letter previously sent on this topic and stating “Presently, our policies with regards to world leaders state that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on current affairs, or strident statements of foreign policy on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter rules.”

Analysis

Iran’s Khamemei has posted many questionable statements on his social media platform, including those denying the holocaust as well as likening Israel to Covid-19 as a virus and cancerous growth, utilizing the hashtag #covid1948 to reference the year the Jewish state was established. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has referred to the Ayatollah’s sentiment as “echoing Hitler’s call for genocide.” Ted Cruz has called for a criminal investigation for Twitter’s allowance of Iranian officials to use the platform at all.

Twitter maintains that they censor tweets containing “targeted harassment,” and that these statements do not fall under that umbrella. The Ayatollah did post, during his prolific month of scandalous tweets, that his call for the end of Zionism is not a call for the elimination of the Jewish people, affirming that Jewish people have lived peacefully in Iran for many years. However, the style of veiled aggression in choice words resonates with many, particularly in Israel, the same way anti-BLM sentiment has with Americans in favor of social justice.

Twitter has pointed to its policy on world leaders as a blanket response to inquiries on the subject, “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate.” It is not hard to see the merit in that argument – if a world leader would like the public to be aware of a hateful agenda, should that public be denied the ability to see that side of said leader? The issue lies in the creation of several lines concerning the role and responsibility of social media companies, particularly U.S. based companies, within politics, foreign and domestic. Only time will tell whether those lines will be clearly drawn, and for whose benefit.

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