There will be no more Twitter accounts linked to illegal terrorist organizations as the social media giant made it clear on Monday that “There is no place on Twitter for illegal terrorist organizations and violent extremist groups.”
After being criticized by the U.S. lawmakers Josh Gottheimer, Tom Reed, Max Rose, and Brian Fitzpatrick for allowing certain organizations to remain active on the social media platform after the organizations have been deemed as Foreign Terrorist organizations by the U.S. government, Twitter Inc. has suspended multiple accounts linked to Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.
On October 22, the House members responded to the Twitters’ claim that it distinguishes between political and the military factions of those organizations by saying, “this distinction is not meaningful, nor is it widely shared. Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist organizations as designated by the United States Government. Period.”
On November 1, the news that the accounts have been suspended after a review was announced by Carlos Monje Jr., Twitter’s director of public policy in the United States and Canada. Also, in a letter to the congressmen, he wrote, “Twitter’s policy is to remove or terminate all accounts it identifies as owned or operated by, or directly affiliated with, any designated foreign terrorist association. If Twitter identifies an account as affiliated with Hamas or Hizballah, Twitter’s policy is to terminate that account.”
“Twitter also takes significant steps to identify accounts that are not directly affiliated with a designated foreign terrorist organization but which nonetheless promote or support violent extremism,” Monje further added in his statement.
Multiple accounts were suspended by Twitter, some of which were Hamas’ English and Arabic language accounts and ones belonging to Al-Manar, a television linked Hezbollah, and Hamas- affiliated news service Quds News Network.
Even the Israeli officials initially criticized Twitter for being the last major social media platform to allow accounts linked to Hamas and Hezbollah to remain active. But now it praised the social media giant for their actions claiming they don’t differentiate between the political and the military wings of Hams and Hezbollah.
While some are praising the social media giant, others are not very happy with it, saying that Twitter is unfairly punishing a wide swath of users in efforts to remove the accounts linked to terrorist groups. The people criticizing Twitters’ move include the Quds News Network, a Palestinian news agency with 10 journalists whose three Twitter accounts were in the list of accounts affected by Twitter’s decision.
“The accounts, which had about one million users’ total, tweeted links to reporting on the daily lives of Palestinians and aren’t affiliated with Hezbollah or Hamas,” said Raja Abdulhaq, the co-founder of the Quds News Network. He blamed the Israelis’ influence on the Twitter’s move without providing evidence by adding, “There’s clear censorship of Palestinian narratives.”
Last September, a letter was sent to Twitter, Google’s YouTube, as well as Facebook by the House members, which requested information on several accounts that were deemed as foreign terrorist organizations and were asked to provide a timeline for removing such content. The letter also requested information on how the companies distinguished contents that were deemed as illegal terrorist content from Hamas and Hezbollah and other organizations.
In regards to Twitter’s earlier response, the company was asked to update its policy, so it was consistent with the U.S. laws and was asked to take similar steps to Facebook and Google by the U.S. lawmakers.
“YouTube complies with all applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws including with respect to content created and uploaded by restricted entities,” said Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc. Facebook also showed its credibility by stating that “the company has a longstanding policy of banning terrorists use its platform.”
The co-signer of the letter to Twitter, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, on Monday said, “Groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah who have killed Americans and U.S. allies shouldn’t have access to social media platforms to promote themselves as sponsors of violent, radical, hate-filled extremism.” He further added “all social media platforms must remain vigilant,” and dubbed the Twitter’s move “a win for the fight on terror.”
The scenario shows how social-media giants can often struggle to define the boundaries between the speech that is allowed and what is not and who can use social media platforms. Before Twitter, TikTok was used by the Islamic State militants to post short propaganda videos, which were fortunately taken down.
Last month, Twitter announced that “it had taken down nearly 116,000 accounts between January and June for promoting terrorist content on the platform, and 87 percent suspended accounts were proactively flagged using internal tools.”