During a Wednesday hearing on anti-Semitism, a Twitter representative defended the social media company’s decision not to block tweets from Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for genocide, but at the same time flagging tweets from President Donald Trump.
A Twitter spokesperson attempted to justify censoring President Trump, but also putting no restrictions on the tweets written by Khamenei. Ylwa Pettersson, Twitter’s head of Public Policy and Philanthropy for the Nordics and Israel, spoke about online anti-Semitism with Israel’s Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs.
Arsen Ostrovsky, international human-rights lawyer and executive director of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, asked Pettersson why several of President Trump’s tweets have been flagged, but there haven’t been any consequences for the Iranian leader for his tweets promoting violence.
“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,” Pettersson responded.
Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh then asked Pettersson, “So, calling for genocide is okay, but commenting on politics is not?”
Pettersson replied, “If a world leader violates our rules, but if there is a clear interest in keeping that on the service, we may place it behind a notice that provides some more context about the violation and allows people to click if they wish to see that type of content.”
“That is what happened for the Trump tweet,” Pettersson continued. “That tweet was violating our policies regarding the glorification of violence, based on the historical context of the last line of that tweet, and the risk that it could possibly inspire harm and similar actions.”
“And, as it was in the interest of the public to keep that on the platform, we decided to keep it up, place it behind a notice … to limit the interaction with it, but because it is of importance to have it remain so that the citizens can see what their political figures are commenting and hold them accountable for what they’re saying online,” Pettersson concluded.
“I think that what’s come up again and again through different examples is actually a sense of double standards, and I would implore Twitter and other online platforms to ensure … that there is no double standard in the application,” Cotler-Wunsh retorted.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley reacted by saying: “What does this say when @Twitter censors @realDonaldTrump more than the Ayatollah? Social media needs to give conservatives the same rights as they give terrorist leaders.”
Former Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell shared a video of the interaction on Twitter.
Khamenei has used his Twitter account to push holocaust denial theories, call for the “elimination” of Israel, and ask for support and assistance to “any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime.”
In May, Twitter flagged President Trump’s tweet for “glorifying violence” for a tweet that read: “…These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let it happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai questioned Twitter about controversial tweets from the Supreme Leader of Iran in response to Trump’s tweet being censored. Pai asked the social media company: “Do these tweets from Supreme Leader of Iran @khamenei_ir violate ‘Twitter Rules about glorifying violence’?”
Israel’s Minister for Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash-Hacohen wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in May that called for the social media company to remove anti-Israel tweets written by Khamenei.
“Twitter’s own Hateful Conduct Policy clearly stipulates that a user ‘may not promote violence against, or directly attack, or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religious affiliation… or calls for mass murder,'” Farkash-Hacohen wrote to Dorsey. “However, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is unremittingly abusing your platform by doing just that — without any enforcement or repercussions.”
Twitter’s Vice President of Public Policy Sinead McSweeney responded by saying that Khamenei’s tweets did not violate the platform’s terms of service.
“World leaders use Twitter to engage in discourse with each other, as well as their constituents,” McSweeney wrote in the June 15 letter, according to the New York Post. “Presently, our policies with regards to world leaders state that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on current affairs, or strident statements of foreign policy on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules.”
“Our assessment is that tweets you have cited are not in violation of our policies at this time, and they fall into the category of foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues of our approach to world leaders,” McSweeney explained.
In June, Twitter blocked a Trump tweet that said: “There will never be an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President. If they try they will be met with serious force!”
“We’ve placed a public policy interest notice on this Tweet for violating our policy against abusive behavior, specifically, the presence of a threat of harm against an identifiable group,” Twitter stated.
Earlier this week, Twitter suspended Donald Trump Jr.’s account for sharing the viral video of frontline doctors claiming hydroxychloroquine could be used to treat COVID-19.
Twitter has also removed Trump tweets over copyright complaints. Earlier this month, the social media platform deleted a Trump campaign ad that used a Linkin Park song.
Last October, Twitter deleted a video posted by Trump poking fun at Joe Biden’s son Hunter for his relationship with a Ukrainian gas executive. The video was removed because it used the music and video from Nickelback’s song “Photograph.”
On June 30, Twitter removed a meme that Trump posted because The New York Times filed a copyright complaint. The photo in the meme was taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Damon Winter for a 2015 feature on Trump.