Senators Threaten Twitter For Allowing Iranian Official Who Helped De-Escalate Tensions Via Twitter To Tweet
from the politicians-censoring-politicians dept
It’s somewhat amazing how quickly officials lean into the idea of censorship as the first response to other officials saying things they don’t like. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office asked both Twitter and Facebook to remove a tweet by Donald Trump (both companies refused). Trump’s tweet showed a misleadingly cut video of Nancy Pelosi. Similarly, Rep. Ro Khanna — who has done some great things, including looking into the harm caused by FOSTA — demanded that Twitter delete that same tweet, falsely stating that “falsity has never been a part of the 1st Amendment,” which is (to repeat myself), false.
Now, if you’re a Trump supporter about to get up in arms over a Democratic politician asking Twitter to delete a tweet from the President, slow down a bit, because around the same time, four Republican Senators were in the process of sending an angry letter to Twitter, telling Jack Dorsey that his company was breaking the law by allowing Iranian officials to tweet. The letter, sent by Senators Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio (all of whom, I assure you, have cynically claimed to support free speech in the past), notes that Trump signed an executive order last year putting sanctions on Iranian officials and preventing US companies from providing goods and services to them:
On June 24 2019, the President invoked his IEEPA powers through Executive Order 13876… blocking the property of “the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic [Ali Kamenei] of Iran and the Iranian Supreme Leader’s Office” and well as persons who act or purport to act on the Supreme Leader’s behalf. On July 31, 2019, OFAC designated Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pursuant to E.O. 13876. All Americans — including you and Twitter — are prohibited from “the making of any contribution or provision of . . . goods or services” to them.
Note that in addition to the general prohibition on Americans providing services to SDNs, Section 1(a)(2)(C) of E.O. 13876 makes it a sanctionable offense for “any person” to have “provided… technological support for, or goods or services to” persons designated pursuant to that E.O.
Twitter continues to provide Internet-based communications services to Khamenei and Zarif. Twitter is aware of these accounts and their links to the Iranian regime. The Supreme Leader’s English-language account, @khamenei_ir, has had tweets removed for advocating murder. The account follows less than 10 other accounts, including his office’s Twitter feeds in Urdu, Arabic, French, Spanish, and Persian, which are straightforward to identify and locate. Zarif’s account, @JZarif, is verified.
The letter also claims that the Ayatollah gets no free speech protections at all, while simultaneously saying that Twitter should never “censor” American’s “political speech.”
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 protections from the United States Bill of Rights. And, as 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.
A Twitter account is a service. Neither GL D-1 nor any other authority exempts Twitter from American sanctions. We therefore call on you to comply with those sanctions by ceasing the provision of services to Khamenei, Zarif, and any other designated Iranian entity.
I’m no expert in the laws regarding U.S. sanctions, so I’m not sure of the legal responsibilities here. But it does seem patently ridiculous to think that merely publishing a foreign leader’s speech should violate any such sanctions. It would certainly open up a lot of serious questions about what counts as providing “services” to sanctioned individuals.
But, even more to the point, is that this letter comes just a month after it was shown that Zarif — who the Senators want Twitter to ban — and Trump himself may have averted escalations with Iran thanks to both of them being on Twitter. That story highlighted how Zarif indicated via Twitter that Iran did not wish to escalate matters with the US, and Trump quickly tweeted a similar response. Diplomacy via tweet. Of course, if these Senators got their way, that would not be allowed.
Given all that, it makes you wonder why Senators Cruz, Blackburn, Cotton, and Rubio are looking to cut off that means of communication.