Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 May 2020

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei's Twitter accounts accidentally suspended

Despite the social network being banned in Iran, a number of top Iranian officials are active on Twitter

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers Friday prayers sermon, in Tehran, Iran January 17, 2020. Reuters
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers Friday prayers sermon, in Tehran, Iran January 17, 2020. Reuters

Twitter briefly suspended several accounts for Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday after mistakenly flagging them as spam content, the company told The National.

Mr Khameini's accounts in English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu were all suspended with a message over Mr Khameini's English account that read, "Twitter suspends accounts that violate the Twitter rules." The accounts were later restored.

"The account has been immediately reinstated. It was mistakenly caught in a spam filter," a Twitter spokesperson told The National.

The company has previously come under pressure to remove Iranian officials from the platform. In the past, Iranian activists have called for the accounts of regime officials to be blocked while Iranians are denied access to the platform.

Last November, the hashtag TwitterBanKhamenei went viral after the regime shut off internet access in an attempt to clamp down on protests sweeping the country.

In February, a group of Republican senators in the US sent a letter to Twitter calling for the platform to suspend the accounts of Mr Khamenei and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to comply with US sanction law.

"... as the leader of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of US citizens — the Ayatollah and any American companies providing him assistance are entirely subject to US sanctions laws," the letter, which was signed by Texas senator Ted Cruz among others, said.

Twitter removes accounts accused of promoting terrorism. In the second half of 2018, more than 166,000 accounts were suspended as the company came under increasing pressure from regulators and governments to tackle extremist content.

Twitter previously said that it would not remove accounts of world leaders.

"Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate," it said in a blog post in 2018.

Last year, it clarified to say that leaders' tweets that violate its rules but have a clear public-interest value might get a warning label.

But added that it would not use its algorithms to "elevate" or otherwise promote tweets that have a warning label. It has also said it also won't let people retweet or comment on them.

In recent weeks, social media companies, including Facebook and Twitter, have announced new regulatory measures as concerns mount of the spread of disinformation surrounding the new coronavirus outbreak.

This month, Twitter announced that it was broadening the company's definition of harm to address content that goes directly against guidance from health authorities.

This includes "denial of global or local health authority recommendations to decrease someone’s likelihood of exposure to Covid-19 with the intent to influence people into acting against recommended guidance," Twitter said in a statement.

Posts by a number of world leaders have fallen short of the guidelines, including US President Donald Trump, whose retweet of a cropped video showing rival presidential candidate Joe Biden was labelled "manipulated media" by Twitter and pegged with a warning on Facebook.

On Sunday, Twitter and Facebook removed posts shared by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that contained misinformation about cures for coronavirus.

The videos reportedly show Mr Bolsonaro praising the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine — which has not yet been approved in clinical tests for treating the virus — and advocating an end to social distancing and isolation in the country.

"Twitter recently announced the expansion of its rules to cover content that could be against public health information provided by official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting Covid-19," a spokesperson for the company said.

Updated: March 31, 2020 04:58 PM

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