To paraphrase Richard Nixon, we won’t have Ali Khamenei to use to kick Twitter around any more. Maybe. After enduring accusations of hypocrisy for weeks in editing and finally banning Donald Trump while allowing Iran’s Supreme Leader unfettered access to its platform, Twitter finally suspended Khamenei earlier this morning.
Ironically, the reason involves Donald Trump:
The tweet contained an image of a golfer resembling Trump apparently being targeted by a drone. pic.twitter.com/E5iBZVc6aB
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) January 22, 2021
So all of the rampant anti-Semitism wasn’t enough, not to mention the point about being the theocratic dictator of the world’s leading terrorist state. The threats against Israel and the US didn’t do it either, and neither did Khamenei’s accusation that the COVID-19 vaccines were a secret plot by the US (not to mention the Jooooooos) to “contaminate” the world. Twitter deleted that tweet but didn’t stop Khamenei from continuing to use the platform.
One has to wonder whether Twitter is secretly relieved that Khamenei finally issued this half-assed fatwa on its platform. It finally gave them the cover to act against the Iranian dictator, as well as cover for the political blowback they got for booting Trump off the platform.
Pressure for action was beginning to reach critical mass. Today’s Washington Post features this blast from Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who wondered what Twitter was waiting for. After all, Khamenei was exploiting a platform that he otherwise blocked for his subjects. Twitter seemed to hold Khamenei to a much different standard, Alinejad noted:
Many Iranian human rights activists have often wondered why Twitter and other social media organizations take so little action against the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other government officials. Meanwhile, Khamenei has banned 83 million Iranians from Twitter, although he and his allies make full use of social platforms to spread their lies — without even a hint of warning labels. The social media playing field remains starkly tilted in favor of the dictatorship.
Testifying before a Senate hearing last October, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said Khamenei’s anti-Semitic tweets and his calls for the eradication of Israel didn’t violate the company’s rules because they were only “saber-rattling.” Since Khamenei’s verbal attacks weren’t aimed at his own citizens, Dorsey claimed, they were permissible.
This is shortsighted — and plain wrong. For many ordinary Iranians, Khamenei’s words are not empty threats but have real consequences on their lives. The most striking example is the wave of protests in November 2019, when the regime shut down the Internet for at least a week. Many activists and journalists were anxiously scrambling to find out what was happening on the ground in Iran in the face of a nationwide information blackout.
The moment the Internet connection was restored, many activists like myself were deluged with videos from citizen journalists showing how security forces were shooting live bullets at protesters.
During the period when ordinary Iranians couldn’t get online, Khamenei and many other regime officials were the only ones who used the Twitter platform. While the government was brutally killing its own people in the streets, Khamenei and other officials were using Twitter to mislead the world.
Alinejad raises a very good point. Why would Twitter allow dictators to use their platform while blocking it to the rest of their country? Even from a strictly marketing perspective, it’s inexplicable. One would think that Jack Dorsey would have required free access by Iranians, at the very least, as the price to host Khamenei’s rantings. Instead, it looks much more like Dorsey wanted the content and was willing to appease the tyrant until the political cost finally got too high.
So yeah, one cheer for Dorsey for doing the right thing. And several thousand demerits for not doing it when it would have meant something other than covering his own ass.
Update: Via Jeryl Bier and the BBC, Twitter hasn’t given up on Khamenei entirely:
Khamenei's website does not list any of his social media accounts. But:
– The suspended account tweeted the poster well over 12 hours before it was published on the website.
– The tweet was re-tweeted by Khamenei's Persian account.
The account seems official, just not popular.
— Kian Sharifi (@KianSharifi) January 22, 2021
So Twitter suspended Khamenei’s least-popular account. How brave.
Update: Now Twitter says the account is a fake impersonation account, which is the reason why they suspended it — as well as for posting the threat:
The account that was suspended does NOT belong to Khamenei—it was suspended bc it was a fake account AND bc of the tweet threatening Trump, Twitter spox tells @ABC.
— Conor Finnegan (@cjf39) January 22, 2021
In other words, Dorsey still has no intention of imposing any standards on Khamenei.