Twitter must apply its own rules and take action against Khamenei

Khamenei has been using Twitter as a platform to rail against Israel.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, May 14, 2019 (photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, May 14, 2019
(photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR)
At a time of heightened debate over Twitter’s policies regarding content the company deems dangerous or misleading, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to abuse his Twitter account to promote violence, terrorism and dehumanization. His tweets are not only a clear violation of Twitter’s rules, but directly endanger lives. Twitter must apply its own rules in a consistent and unbiased manner, and take action against Khamenei’s account.
Khamenei has been using Twitter as a platform to rail against Israel since at least 2011. Nevertheless, his use of Twitter to promote armed violent attacks against Israel and Israelis has recently sunk to a new low.
In recent tweets, Khamenei offered material support to terrorists targeting Israel, declaring, “We will support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime.” To clarify the nature of this support, he tweeted, “Iran realized Palestinian fighters’ only problem was lack of access to weapons” and that, “The West Bank must be armed, just as Gaza.” He further explained, “The only remedy until the removal of the Zionist regime is firm, armed resistance” and that Israel “will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed.”
Khamenei removed any possible doubt as to what type of groups he was promoting by tweeting, “#Hamas & #IslamicJihad in Palestine, #Hezbollah in Lebanon have been a proof for everyone.”
Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, are US-designated terrorist organizations responsible for thousands of murderous attacks, including numerous deadly attacks against Americans. Hezbollah actively assisted Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in his slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians as well.
In addition, Khamenei regularly uses his account to dehumanize and delegitimize Israelis and all those who identify with Israel. As Twitter noted in its September 25, 2018, post titled Creating New Policies Together, “Language that makes someone less than human can have repercussions off the service, including normalizing serious violence.”
Khamenei’s dehumanizing tweets included comparing Israel to the coronavirus, declaring “Today the #Covid-19 is a reality; should it be accepted or fought?! The long-lasting virus of Zionism will be uprooted,” and describing the “Zionist regime and its criminal supporters” as a “rabid, predatory dog.” Iran’s Supreme Leader also repeatedly employs classic antisemitic tropes, such as condemning “Jewish plutocrats” and “Jewish corporation owners.”
Khamenei’s tweets are an explicit violation of a number of Twitter rules and policies. These include the prohibition against threatening “violence against a group of people” and against “glorifying violent acts”.
Khamenei’s support for designated terrorist organizations is a violation of Twitter’s declared policy that states, “There is no place on Twitter for terrorist organizations... and individuals who affiliate with and promote their illicit activities.” Khamenei’s tweets advertise his readiness to concretely assist those engaged in such violent acts, thereby violating the policy against “providing or distributing services (e.g., financial, media/propaganda) to further a terrorist organization’s... stated goals.”
Furthermore, Khamenei’s antisemitic and anti-Israel tweets violate Twitter’s Rule against hateful conduct and dehumanization, including against spreading “fearful stereotypes about a protected category,” and the use of “repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.”
As UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov noted in condemning Khamenei’s tweets, “Such inciteful rhetoric is a modern form of antisemitism.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “The US condemns Supreme Leader Khamenei’s disgusting and hateful antisemitic remarks. They have no place on Twitter.”
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell declared, “The European Union condemns the threatening remarks of Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei bringing into question Israel’s legitimacy. Such statements are totally unacceptable.”
While Twitter states that it makes exceptions to its rules when it deems that doing so is in the public interest, the company explains that it is highly unlikely to apply such exceptions when officials use Twitter to promote terrorism or violence. This is due to the “potential risk” and “severity of harm” posed by such tweets. The Iranian regime is a leading state sponsor of terrorism, and millions around the world view Iran’s supreme leader as a religious authority. Therefore, the potential risk and harm from such tweets is extremely high.
In light of these clear violations of Twitter’s rules, Twitter must suspend Khamenei’s account immediately. At the very least, it must delete his hateful and inciting tweets. If Twitter fails to take such steps, it will undermine public confidence in the company’s commitment to applying its rules and policies in an impartial manner.
The writer is a fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum, and a strategy and communications consultant. Follow him @fredman_a.