Instagram is suspending Iranian profiles and deleting posts that mention Qasem Soleimani. The general died in a targeted killing ordered by Trump last week.
The mass deletions drew outrage from Iranian government officials. International journalist advocacy groups in Iran and Belgium are pushing back too.
But Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Instagram’s parent company, justified the content policy as a matter of compliance with US sanctions. A Facebook spokesperson reportedly said in a statement:
We operate under US sanctions laws, including those related to the US government’s designation of the IRGC and its leadership.
The IRGC is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. And in April 2019, the Trump Administration designated the Iranian armed services branch a foreign terrorist organization that “actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism.”
The White House statement warned that the designation should make “the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to” the IRGC “crystal clear.”
Instagram’s content policy forbids using the platform as “a place to support or praise terrorism, organized crime, or hate groups.”
But IRGC profiles aren’t the only ones Instagram has removed in the sweep. The International Federation of Journalists says at least 15 Iranian journalists have reported losing their accounts.
Amir Rashidi, a New York-based Iranian internet security and digital rights researcher, is quoted in Coda as saying any Iranian that mentioned Soleimani on Instagram had their posts deleted:
It’s very widespread, it’s huge. Every person I saw that posted about Soleimani on Instagram, almost all of their posts have been removed.
He calls it censorship, and laments the lack of options for Iranian free speech:
The only platform where we could freely express ourselves was Instagram. And now Instagram is censoring us.
So Iranians are now caught between censorship efforts by Instagram and their own government. The Islamic Republic of Iran itself has blocked a number of social media platforms in Iran. That includes YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Blogger.
Instagram is one of the last remaining Western social media platforms Iranians are allowed to access. As a result, it has become an important one for Iranian expression, commerce, and connection with the rest of the world.
The International Federation of Journalists is demanding an end to what the federation calls censorship of Iranian media on Instagram:
This poses an immediate threat to freedom of information in Iran, as Instagram is the only international social media platform currently still operating in the country.
The Association of Iranian Journalists in Tehran has written a scathing letter to Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri. It blasted Instagram’s sweep of Iranian profiles as:
…unprecedented in the history of social networks and in conflict with the very innate actuality of media.
The AIJT says it goes against:
…global standard principles including freedom of speech and media and therefore demands immediate correction of such measures.
An Iranian journalist who’s actually been imprisoned in Iran for criticizing the IRGC was among the censored. Instagram removed a post that merely reported Soleimani’s death “saddened some, and made others happy.”
The row over Iranian Instagram profiles follows months of controversy over Facebook’s 2020 political ad policy. And a defiant Mark Zuckerberg’s response would seem to contradict Instagram’s recent actions:
What I believe is that in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments.
Furthermore, he added:
I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.
Just journalists, Mr. Zuckerberg?
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:39 PM UTC