The ‘Twitter Rules’
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The ‘Twitter Rules’

Representative Josh Gottheimer says the company should not let terrorists tweet

Josh Gottheimer
Josh Gottheimer

Should social media companies allow terrorist organizations to post on their platforms?

No, Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J. 4th Dist.) says.

Mr. Gottheimer joined three other House members — Max Rose, the freshman Democrat who represents Staten Island, Tom Reed, a Republican from New York’s Southern Tier and Finger Lakes, and Brian Fitzgerald, a freshman Republican from Pennsylvania’s Bucks County — in a letter to Twitter.

“Several constituents sent me examples of terrorist content on their social media platforms, so we sent a letter to social media companies — including Google, which has YouTube, and Facebook, which has Instagram, and Twitter — a few months ago,” Mr. Gottheimer said. Why? “Because we don’t want to promote organizations whose goal is to kill Americans and undermine our democracy.”

How do the representatives define terrorist content? “In 1999, the State Department designated some groups as foreign terrorist organizations, and you cannot do business with them. They include Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah; the list continues to be updated.

When the companies got the letter, Mr. Gottheimer said, “Facebook and Google both responded quickly with the steps they take to remove and scrape content.

“Twitter wrote back to us, saying ‘here is the outlines of our rules, who we prevent from posting or having a Twitter handle, but in certain cases, particularly with Hezbollah and Hamas, there are some of them who are elected officials.’ Basically they’re saying that some of them are good guys and bad guys. Good jihadists and bad jihadists. And we let the good ones have their Twitter handles.”

Or, as Twitter’s director of public policy and philanthropy, Carlos Monje Jr., put it in the September 25th letter, “We may make limited exceptions for groups that have reformed or are currently engaging in peaceful resolution processes, as well as groups with representatives who have been elected to public office through elections, as is the case with parts of Hamas and Hezbollah.

“Twitter draws a distinction between the political and military factions of these organizations. Individuals directly representing or promoting the political factions of these organizations may use Twitter in accordance with the Twitter Rules, including those outlined above. Accounts affiliated with the military wings, however, are permanently suspended. This is consistent with our long-standing approach towards groups designated on terrorist organization lists that also hold elected seats in government.”

That’s not acceptable, Mr. Gottheimer said.

“The law is clear.” It defines Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups; it says nothing about different parts of them having different classifications.

“What we have found online — why they should take it down — includes, for example, a picture of a rocket saying that this missile can destroy all warships and kill everyone on board,” he said.

Or, as the letter the four representatives wrote on October 22 and sent in to Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, over the engraved letterhead “Congress of the United States,” said, “We were surprised to learn that Twitter’s process for determining terrorist organizations differs from that of the United States.” After detailing the United States’ official definition, it continues, “If you believe that Twitter is better at determining violent extremist content than the United States Government’s interagency process, then we urge you to come to testify before Congress to explain your own process…”

As for the differentiation between terrorist organizations’ political and military arms, “This distinction is not meaningful, nor is it widely shared,” the letter says. Or, as Mr. Gottheimer said, “If Osama Bin Laden were elected by his peers as being the number one chief terrorist in the world, he wouldn’t have been allowed to have a presence on social media.” Twitter’s is “an absurd statement. You should not have a Twitter handle so you can spew your hate across the world.”

Mr. Gottheimer and his co-signers asked Mr. Dorsey to “immediately update your policy consistent with our laws, and by November 1, 2019, remove Hamas and Hezbollah-affiliated content and Twitter handles.” He’s not holding his breath, though. “It’s pretty galling,” Mr. Gottheimer said.

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