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.

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Comments on “Senators Threaten Twitter For Allowing Iranian Official Who Helped De-Escalate Tensions Via Twitter To Tweet”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Does the 1st Amendment apply?

There is a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing. To the Trump regime, doing things right means following his every dictum to the letter of the dictum whether it is actually legal or right. Doing the right thing would include having the moral capacity to understand what is happening around you and empathizing with those impacted by the things one does, then caring enough to ameliorate ones grossest instincts.

The other possibility is that the Iranian leaders could have just leaked whatever they had to say to the press, and then some US media organization could have printed/spoken those words and been protected by the 1st Amendment. It just would have taken longer than the time it took two old men more bent on introspection, personal agendas, and less than reasonable impulse control could achieve on Twitter. And the same words would be out there. Who has instant gratification issues?

Political grandstanding aside, I don’t think Twitter is the issue here, and for that reason should not be impacted, but politicians have a great need to point fingers at anything other themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Does the 1st Amendment apply?

This is all a bit muddled. Is it really settled law that foreign entities get no First Amendment protection from US Government actions (like sanctions)? Is a free service doing business with someone by letting them use the service?—they are, after all, making money this way. But if money is speech and US corporations have freedom of speech, how can it be legal to ban companies like Twitter from doing business with Iran?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Does the 1st Amendment apply?

Is it really settled law that foreign entities get no First Amendment protection from US Government actions (like sanctions)?

Given the first amendment(along with the others) is a prohibition on what the government can do with regards to speech, telling a company ‘you are not allowed to let them speak’ seems like the sort of thing that would struggle in court, though that of course would require a judge with a spine to rule on the matter, and those can be a bit difficult to find these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Censorship

Today all the major internet news sources and social media are concentrated in the U.S. and much easier for Washington to manipulate.

I don’t think this is true. What IS true is that most of the major English speaking Internet media companies and social media platforms are concentrated in the U.S. and are much easier for Washington to manipulate.

QQ and Baidu are two of the world’s largest platforms. WeChat is up there too. So is Yandex and its various properties. Tik Tok is on the rise, and is a Chinese company backed by Dubai.

However, Twitter is a public forum that is popular world-wide because of its balanced hand when it comes to censorship. Facebook is amazingly popular globally as well, especially in the mid-east and non-Chinese Asia.

It really looks like Russia has for the most part failed to become an influencer in this area, but China is quickly wresting control from the U.S. in providing social media to the global masses.

If Washington continues to try to control US companies in this manner, all they’re really doing is pushing more people to Chinese alternatives that are more than happy to bring them into the fold.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Censorship

I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but I think the reason Chinese platforms are so large has a lot to do with Chinese restriction on foreign companies offering goods or services to Chinese citizens/residents and the fact that China has the largest population of any nation in the world.

Basically, as far as most of the non-Chinese world is concerned, it does seem to be the case that almost all the major internet news sources and social media companies are concentrated in the US. Note that Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are dominant forces throughout the EU, where most of the member nations are not part of the English-speaking world, and are in substantial use elsewhere as well. The issue Techdirt is referring to is those internet news sources and social media platforms with a global reach.

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Tin-Foil-Hat says:

Why Not?

Why not create a walled garden where Americans are sealed in and everyone else is sealed out? Americans require very little propaganda to convince. They can easily be duped into believing they’re free and who is/isn’t an enemy. They’ll gladly give up their rights and deprive "the enemy" whoever it is at the moment of theirs even if it ultimately imprisons them.

ECA (profile) says:

Love the idea.

I love to watch incompetence.
Think of a Phone line and restricting it from Far away.
The person on the phone is declaring all his intentions and Bad things he wishes to happen.
And WE turn off his phone.
Does this do much good?

He reaches over and gets his other phone that does not use the same Service, and Keeps it up. Keeps saying what he wishes to happen.

Now for a thought.
Arnt they having problems in that country Again?? The Students and many of the people there, are upset with the Gov. AGAIN??
If we Can prove who is responsible for certain acts, why not just goto the international courts and ask that we can walk into the country and ask for him to stand trial.. If he has admitted of instigated something bad happening isnt he responsible??

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Anonymous Coward says:


The answer to poor speech is not censorship, but more speech.

Why didn’t they just ridicule the misrepresentation?

F’ing politicians always throwing the law and state force against things when just normal social interaction will address the issue. Geez they could even get some PR out of it.

Meanwhile, hats off to MM for this gem:

falsely stating that "falsity has never been a part of the 1st Amendment," which is (to repeat myself), false

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