Major social media platforms are removing Iranian disinformation and coordinated behavior from their platforms. But Republicans don’t think that’s enough.
Four Republican senators wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Feb. 6 saying that the company needed to halt its services to U.S.-sanctioned Iranian leaders. These included Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, both of whom have active Twitter accounts. Six days later, Facebook announced that it had removed fake accounts that had been run from Iran.
Military magazine Defense One found that Iranian disinformation campaigns in the past “have affected operations against ISIS and endangered U.S. troops.” The piece cited Alizera Nader, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who said, “The regime is known for its hacking capabilities and spends a considerable amount of resources trying to shape discourse on social media.”
Khamenei uses his account for threats against Israel. Previously, he had tweeted: “Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.” While Twitter is blocked in Iran by the regime for fear of anti-government “protest efforts,” according to Fast Company, leaders still have the ability to tweet.
“While the First Amendment protects the free speech rights of Americans — and Twitter should not be censoring the political speech of Americans — the Ayatollah enjoys zero protection from the United States Bill of Rights,” wrote Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Tom Cotton (R-AK).
Facebook removed accounts that were spreading disinformation from Iran quickly. The blog post described the content spread by these accounts as “about political news and geopolitics including topics like the US elections, Christianity, US-Iran relations, US immigration policy, criticism of US policies in the Middle East, public figures, as well as video interviews with academics, public figures, and columnists on issues related to Iran and US elections.”
Twitter has a public policy to frame tweets from world leaders in context if those tweets violate Twitter’s community standards. However, no world leaders, including the ayatollah, have been given any context on Twitter.
The senators warned Twitter, “[A]s the leader of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism -- directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of U.S. citizens -- the Ayatollah and any American companies providing him assistance are entirely subject to U.S. sanctions laws.”