A team of bipartisan lawmakers are digging into Twitter over its policy of allowing Hamas and Hezbollah to maintain presences on the powerful social media platform.
In a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Tuesday, the four House lawmakers offered a sharp rebuke of the company’s decision to support accounts even for groups designated as “foreign terrorist organizations” by the U.S. government, particularly Hamas and Hezbollah.
Last month, Gottheimer, Reed and Fitzpatrick penned letters to the CEOs of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter about why they allow figures associated with foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) — Hamas and Hezbollah — to make accounts, post and accrue substantial followings on their platforms.
After receiving responses from all of the companies over the past month, the lawmakers are taking issue with Twitter in particular, which they say is not taking the issue seriously.
Al Manar, a pro-Hezbollah news source, had around 11,600 followers as of Monday morning, and Hamas’s English-language Twitter account had more than 71,800 followers. Officials with both groups have Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Rose, Reed and Gottheimer said they’re pushing the company to take down the Hezbollah and Hamas content by Nov. 1.
“Bring your policy in line with U.S. law,” Gottheimer said. “And we’re bringing it to the attention of the State Department and the Treasury [Department].” Hamas and Hezbollah are two of the more than 60 groups currently on the State Department’s list of FTOs.
In the letter, the lawmakers pointed to Google — which owns YouTube — and Facebook’s responses as a level of commitment larger than that of Twitter.
“While other social media companies, including Facebook and Google, have taken proactive measures to address the presence of FTO and affiliated accounts and content on their platforms, Twitter is refusing to take adequate action to stop the spread of terror,” the four lawmakers wrote.
Social media platforms like Twitter are largely allowed to craft their own policies around how to handle groups designated as "terrorist" by the U.S. government.
In a letter responding to the congressional inquiry last month, Twitter’s Director of Public Policy Carlos Monje, Jr. explained that Twitter makes “exceptions” to its policies on terrorist and extremist content for groups that are involved in “peaceful” resolution processes or that “have been elected to public office, as is the case with parts of Hamas and Hezbollah,” according to a letter made public on Tuesday.
The Hamas administration was elected to serve as the governing body of the Gaza Strip over a decade ago, and Hezbollah has been a legitimate part of the government in Lebanon since 2005. Though the U.S. and other Western countries have designated both Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, both groups have political arms that are responsible for representing large swaths of people and providing social services in Palestinian territory and Lebanon, respectively. Hamas has been involved in continual negotiations with the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization for years.
According to Monje, Twitter allows the groups’ political arms to maintain accounts, though it does not allow accounts affiliated with their military wings.
While Twitter and most of the other top social media companies in the world are headquartered in the U.S., they all have presences worldwide and must navigate the complex web of foreign relations and differing definitions of “terrorism” across a variety of conflict-torn nations.
The push against Twitter comes amid a larger political backlash against companies over how they handle extremist and terrorist content, an issue that gained new attention in light of a string of mass shootings this year by gunmen with radical online footprints.
“Social media companies need to be doing ... everything they can to stop this constant threat of violent extremism, disinformation, terror and hate online that’s attacking our democracy,” Gottheimer said at the press conference.