Twitter Just Removed A Tweet From An Account Linked To Iran’s Supreme Leader, Raising Enforcement Questions

Twitter has previously used a newsworthiness standard to defend its refusal to apply abuse and harassment rules to President Donald Trump’s account.

Twitter removed a tweet from an account that reportedly belongs to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei on Friday for appearing to call for the execution of noted novelist Salman Rushdie.

In the tweet, the account @khamenei_ir, which provides “regular updates and news about Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei,” reminded its nearly 550,000 followers of the 1989 “verdict” against Rushdie, in which Iran’s previous leader declared the author be put to death for his controversial work, The Satanic Verses.

“Imam Khomeini’s verdict regarding Salman Rushdie is based on divine verses and just like divine verses, it is solid and irrevocable,” the account tweeted on Thursday.

The tweet drew the attention of Twitter users and journalists who saw the message from Iran’s leader as an attempt to incite violence. On Friday, Twitter agreed, with a spokesperson telling BuzzFeed News: “It's against our rules to make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people."

A Twitter spokesperson just said this tweet from Iran's leader violated its terms of service and has been made unavailable. "It's against our rules to make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people."

@RMac18 / Twitter

In response, Twitter hid the tweet and placed @khamenei_ir in read-only mode, preventing the account from tweeting further messages until the offending post was deleted. The company did not move to suspend the account, in spite of the violation of its rules, with a spokesperson noting that “the enforcement was at the tweet level” before adding that Twitter had nothing more to share.

Twitter’s decision to disappear the tweet from the Khamenei-linked account, which is not verified, places its enforcement policies under a microscope after previous comments the company and its leaders have made about content from world leaders. In a blog post last year, the company seemed to defend all tweets from world leaders as newsworthy “because of the outsized impact on our society.”

”Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” the company wrote in January 2018. “It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”

During a recent media tour, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been asked multiple times what it would take for the platform to ban President Donald Trump, who has used his account to belittle politicians, celebrities, and members of the media.

“We hold all accounts to the same terms of service,” Dorsey said on Tuesday in an interview with reporter Kara Swisher. “The most controversial aspect of our TOS is the newsworthy/public interest clause, the ‘protection’ you mention. That doesn’t extend to all public figures by default, but does speak to global leaders and seeing how they think.”

It’s unclear if the Khamenei-linked account has already deleted the offending tweet about Rushdie. The account’s last visible tweet is from Thursday, and it would only be allowed to post again if it removes the message about Rushdie.

Rushdie, who published The Satanic Verses in 1988, drew ire from parts of the Muslim world for its links to the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The following year, Khamenei’s predecessor issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie's death, forcing him into hiding.

A representative for Rushdie did not immediately return a request for comment.

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