With Accounts in 11 Languages, Iran’s Ayatollah Continues to Use Twitter to Spread Anti-US Views

Patrick Goodenough | November 7, 2022 | 4:31am EST
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An image of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on an Iranian woman’s phone. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
An image of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on an Iranian woman’s phone. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Amid concern in mostly liberal quarters that Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter will amplify harmful content, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday again used the platform – as he has done for years – to spread anti-America sentiment to his well over one million followers.

In a series of tweets, Khamenei highlighted excerpts of a speech he gave last week, saying, among other things:

--that “the isolation of U.S.” will be one of the main elements of the changing world order

--that political, economic, cultural and scientific power are shifting “from the West to Asia”

--that the U.S. “will be forced to end its presence across the globe” including at military bases in Asia, Europe and the Middle East

As he delivered the speech in question – marking “the National Day of Fighting Global Arrogance,” the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran – students in Khamenei’s audience began chanting “Death to America.”

Khamenei then responded – as highlighted in one of his Sunday tweets – as follows:

“Some say when you chant ‘Down with the U.S.,’ this causes the U.S. to become hostile toward you. But no! No one was chanting ‘Down with the U.S.’ in 1953 when the U.S. toppled a government in Iran that had been elected by the people. But they inflicted the blow they had in mind.”

(The actual chant in Farsi was “Mag bar, Amreeka” which translates “Death to America,” although Khamenei in his English-language tweet used the less incendiary phrase, “Down with the U.S.”)

Khamenei and other senior regime figures in Tehran have long used Twitter to disseminate their views, as have representatives and ministries of other regimes hostile to the U.S., including China, Russia, Cuba, Belarus, and the Maduro regime.

While Twitter in some cases draws attention to their affiliation or otherwise reacts, in others it does not.

For example, notorious tweets in 2020 by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman spreading conspiracy theories linking the U.S. military to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan were later given “Get the facts about COVID-19” links. But tweets by Khamenei calling the U.S. “Satan” and describing Israel as America’s “chained dog” still appear, with no Twitter intervention or comment.

Regimes antagonistic towards the U.S. continued to use Twitter even after the company’s consequential decision to suspend then-President Trump’s account permanently following the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol.

After purchasing Twitter, Musk pledged not to reinstate suspended accounts until a clear review process has been put in place. How Musk-owned Twitter deals such as Khamenei’s use of its platform remains to be seen.

Iran’s supreme leader today has Twitter accounts in at least 11 languages, ranging from the most popular in English (939,000 followers) to the least, in Urdu (just 953 followers).

Together, his accounts in English, Farsi, Arabic, French, Spanish, Russian, Turkish, Hindi, Italian, German, and Urdu reach a total of 1.97 million followers, up from 1.71 million last February, from 1.25 million in mid-2020, and from 830,000 in November 2019.

Other regime figures in Iran with sizeable Twitter followings include President Ebrahim Raisi (199,300 followers, up from 107,000 last February); Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian (146,500 followers, up from 86,000 in February); former President Hassan Rouhani (1.1 million), former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (1.6 million) and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (148,000).

Amirabdollahian, Zarif, Rouhani and Ahmadinejad have Twitter blue-tick verification. Raisi and Khamenei do not.

(A new service now being rolled out will enable any Twitter user to get the blue checkmark for a $7.99 monthly subscription fee.)

U.N. ‘concern and apprehension’

On Saturday, the United Nations’ newly-appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, sent an open letter to Musk, voicing concern about how his ownership may affect Twitter.

“Twitter is part of a global revolution that has transformed how we communicate. But I write with concern and apprehension about our digital public square and Twitter’s role in it,” wrote Türk, an Austrian national who has held several senior U.N. posts.

New U.N. high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk has written an open letter to Twitter owner Elon Musk. (Photo by Elodie Le Maou / AFP via Getty Images)
New U.N. high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk has written an open letter to Twitter owner Elon Musk. (Photo by Elodie Le Maou / AFP via Getty Images)

“I urge you to ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter under your leadership,” he said. “Reports that Twitter’s entire human rights team and all but two of its ethical AI [artificial intelligence] team have been fired this week are not, from my perspective, an encouraging start.”

Türk offered six “fundamental principles from a human rights perspective that need to be front and center in the management of Twitter.”

They include the need to “protect free speech across the globe” but at the same time “avoid amplifying content that results in harm to other people’s rights.”

There is no place for hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence on Twitter,” he wrote. “Spread of hate speech on social media has had horrific consequences for thousands. Twitter’s content moderation policies should continue to bar such hatred on the platform.”

“Twitter has much to offer to our common agenda for a better world, but we need to be clear-eyed as to what is required to make that reality,” Türk concluded. “In a world as complex as ours has become, our shared human rights offer a unifying way forward. We look forward to working with you.”

See also:
US is ‘Satan,’ Israel is its ‘Chained Dog,’ But Twitter Gives Ayatollah’s Tweets a Pass (Jul. 30 2020)

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