Hold Twitter To Account | Opinion

In July 2020, at a Knesset session with social media companies on the issue of online anti-Semitism, I questioned a Twitter representative on why it was flagging President Donald Trump's tweets (at the time, mostly regarding COVID-19 and George Floyd's death), but leaving unchecked Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's actual calls for genocide against Israel.

The Twitter rep's response was as jarring as it was obscene, claiming Khamenei's tweets fell within Twitter guidelines because they were mere "foreign policy saber-rattling" and thus acceptable "commentary on political issues of the day."

In other words, calling for genocide and my death—and the deaths of nine million other Israelis—is okay according to Twitter and Jack Dorsey.

President Trump's recent indefinite ban from Twitter has only underscored the gross double standards and arbitrariness in the company's enforcement of its own terms and policies.

On the facts of the case alone, Twitter was well within its merits to revoke access to President Trump on the basis of his inflammatory rhetoric at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, and with a justified concern that he would continue obstructing an orderly and peaceful transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden.

Nonetheless, this still raises an obvious question: How is it that Twitter can ban President Trump yet continue to turn a blind eye to the world's worst terrorists, dictators and tyrants?

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei, who continues to call for the genocide of Israel, incite violence against Americans and deny the Holocaust, still has an account.

So do the various commissars of the Chinese Communist Party, which uses Twitter to systematically spread COVID-19 misinformation and justify its genocide of Uyghur Muslims.

Ditto the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin, who has a penchant for poisoning opposition leaders and threatening them online.

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro both roam freely on the social platform.

Simply put, Twitter cannot claim it is committed to tackling hate and violence while it continues to provide an unfiltered platform to the Iranian leader and a who's-who of the world's worst human rights abusers and terror abettors.

This is not an issue of free speech, but one of basic fairness and transparency.

Twitter suspended President Donald Trump's account on
Twitter suspended President Donald Trump's account on January 8, 2021 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Twitter is a private company and therefore can deny access to its platform to whomever it wants, including the president of the United States—especially if the president has been deemed repeatedly in breach of its policies and terms of use.

We don't have to like Twitter's decision, but we also don't have to use its platform. As blatantly hypocritical and arbitrary as its decision is, the decision is Twitter's to make. In theory, users can freely leave for another platform.

Nor, of course, is Twitter some kind of moral guardian. As a private corporation, Twitter's primary mission is to make a profit and a return on investment for its shareholders.

However, that still does not give Twitter carte blanche to do as it pleases.

To date, Twitter, like other social media companies and tech giants, has been largely immune to regulation.

Twitter has been able to do so mostly because of the expansive protection afforded to it by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which largely shields online platforms from liability generated by their users.

Section 230 has enabled the Big Tech giants to operate in a lawless world—devoid of rules, standards or other obligations to society at-large—by claiming they are platforms and hosting services, not traditional publishers.

However, the fact that Twitter was prepared to ban President Trump's account while making a concerted decision to permit access to Ayatollah Khamenei—a repeat inciter to genocide—removes, once and for all, the façade that Twitter is merely a hosting platform.

Enough is enough.

As long as Twitter continues to apply a double-standard to its own terms and policies, and turns its backs to the likes of Khamenei and the world's worst dictators and terror groups, it is in effect aiding and abetting in gross human rights violations and the inevitable violence that ensues.

This is not a theoretical debate in free speech. It is a demand on social media companies for greater transparency and application of an equal standard with respect to those who use their platforms to incite violence. If these companies are unable or unwilling to provide that transparency and equal standard, then perhaps it is time for the government to step in and do it for them.

Arsen Ostrovsky is an Israel-based international human rights lawyer. You can follow him on Twitter: Ostrov_A.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.