(Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Several social media giants recently made a controversial move by banning US President Donald Trump while allowing leaders of what the US Department of State has called the top state sponsor of terrorism, the Iranian regime, to operate freely on their platforms.
First, it was Facebook and Instagram that banned the President "indefinitely." Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said:
"We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete."
Twitter immediately followed suit by suspending the accounts of President Trump, Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell. Regarding President Trump, Twitter claimed:
"After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence."
Twitter apparently had a problem with only two tweets of the President: one stated that he would not attend President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20: "To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th." In the second one, President Trump wrote:
"The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!"
"These two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President's statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks. After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service."
Such an interpretation of those words seems, bluntly, a bit of a stretch -- especially when compared to what is permitted on Twitter without so much as a "thoughtful little note" of any kind.
What, for instance, about Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who constantly tweets anti-Semitic and incendiary tweets and whose regime the US Department of State has called "the world's worst sponsor of terrorism"? Khamenei has no problem on Twitter publicly calling for the annihilation of Israel and denying the Holocaust.
"We will support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime," Khamenei tweeted on May 20, 2020, "and we do not hesitate to say this. #FlyTheFlag". On May 18, 2020 he posted a tweet:
"The West Bank must be armed, just as Gaza. The only thing that can reduce the Palestinians' hardships is the hand of power. Otherwise, compromise won't reduce a bit of the cruelty of this usurping, evil, wolf-like entity. #FlyTheFlag".
On May 21, 2020, he tweeted:
"The ppl of Palestine should hold a referendum. Any political sys they vote for should govern in all of Palestine. The only remedy until the removal of the Zionist regime is firm, armed resistance."
According to Twitter's "Violent organizations policy":
"There is no place on Twitter for violent organizations, including terrorist organizations, violent extremist groups, or individuals who affiliate with and promote their illicit activities... Our assessments under this policy are informed by national and international terrorism designations, as well as our violent extremist group and violent organizations criteria.
Don't those tweets from Iran's Supreme Leader violate Twitter's own rules?
More shocking, in November 9, 2014 Khamenei posted a tweet laying out how to annihilate Israel: "Why should & how can #Israel be eliminated? Ayatollah Khamenei's answer to 9 key questions. #HandsOffAlAqsa". Khamenei actually posted a screenshot exactly detailing the process to destroy Israel. Those tweets are still up.
When asked about the ayatollah's anti-Semitic tweets, Ylwa Pettersson, Twitter's head of policy for the Nordic countries and Israel, told the Israeli Knesset's Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, through a video-conference:
"We have an approach toward leaders that says that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on military-economic issues are generally not in violation of our rules."
The response commendably sparked outrage. People pointed to the double standards. Member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who was in the session and led the discussion, wrote:
"Wow. Twitter just admitted that tweets calling for genocide against Jews by Iranian leaders DON'T violate its policy! THIS is a double standard. This is antisemitism."
Human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky tweeted:
"I kid you not! At a Knesset hearing on Antisemitism, @Twitter rep tells me they flag @realDonaldTrump because it serves 'public conversation', but not Iran's @khamenei_ir call for GENOCIDE, which passes for acceptable 'commentary on political issues of the day'. cc. @CotlerWunsh"
Social media giants nevertheless freely allow Iranian leaders to tweet death threats to Americans, anti-Semitism and calls for the destruction of Israel. Will no one please stop them?
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu