Meta Removes Iran’s Supreme Leader’s Social Media Accounts Over ‘Cybersecurity Concerns’
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has taken action against Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by removing his accounts from both platforms. The move comes as Meta cited violations of its Dangerous Organisations & Individuals policy as the reason for the account removal. According to Meta, Khamenei’s accounts were disabled, signifying a permanent removal from the platforms.
“We have removed these accounts for repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organisations & Individuals policy,” stated a Meta spokesperson in communication with CNN. The policy prohibits organisations or individuals involved in violence or advocating violent missions from having a presence on Meta platforms. This includes those who endorse or represent terrorist organisations as designated by the US government.
Iran has faced accusations of supporting Hamas, a group labelled as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the US State Department. The US government has alleged that Iran provides funding, weaponry, and training to Hamas. Additionally, Iran is suspected of aiding and training the Houthi rebels in Yemen, recently re-designated as an FTO by President Biden.
Pressure had mounted on Meta to address Khamenei’s promotion of these designated organisations since October 7, according to Mahsa Alimardani, a digital rights researcher at Article 19. Alimardani expressed disappointment that action wasn’t taken sooner against Khamenei’s accounts for disseminating harmful content.
Meta did not specify the exact reasons for Khamenei’s account removal under the Dangerous Organisations and Individuals Policy. Prior to its removal, Khamenei’s main Instagram account boasted over 5 million followers.
Meanwhile, Microsoft revealed findings about cyber-attacks allegedly orchestrated by Iranian actors aligned with the government. These attacks, which occurred since October 2023, were purportedly aimed at bolstering Hamas and undermining Israel and its allies.
Despite Tehran’s denial of involvement in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, Microsoft’s report highlighted a series of cyber-enabled influence operations attributed to Iran. The frequency of these operations has surged significantly, with 11 instances reported in October 2023 alone compared to sporadic occurrences in previous years.
In a concerning development, Iranian-affiliated hackers disrupted streaming television services in the UAE, Canada, and the UK in early December 2023.
Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence report warned of the escalating threat posed by Iranian cyber and influence operations, especially in light of impending events such as the US elections in November. The report emphasised the growing collaboration among Iranian and Iran-affiliated actors, indicating a heightened risk in the cybersecurity landscape.
Meta, X, Google, and Microsoft have been widely accused of censoring content critical of Israel’s actions in its ongoing war in Gaza or showing sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. Since 7 October, Israel, with unconditional support from the United States, the United Kingdom, and other western governments, has killed over 28,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded over 68,000 others. Over 80% percent of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including hospitals, schools, and places of worship, have been damaged or destroyed by the ongoing Israeli bombardment, according to the United Nations and other international humanitarian organisations operating in the region.
Numerous social media accounts, sympathetic to the Palestinians and critical of Israel’s alleged violations of international law, have been either suspended, shadow-banned, or removed from platforms operated by major tech companies under various pretexts, according to social media monitoring groups.
Social media activists and rights groups say that social media platforms often cite the ‘Dangerous Organisations and Individuals policy’ and hate speech or community guidelines or standards to censor or remove such content or accounts, while direct calls for the ‘genocide’ of Palestinians and ‘Israeli propaganda’ are allowed to be promoted on major platforms.
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