Under US Pressure, Social Media Companies Suspend Venezuelan, Iranian & Syrian Accounts

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are censoring content that conflicts with Washington’s pro-war narrative, Ben Norton reports.

By Ben Norton

The Donald Trump administration is ramping up its information war against Venezuela, Iran, and Syria. And it has enlisted social media platforms as weapons in its assault on these top regime-change targets.

In the first two weeks of January, Twitter suspended dozens of accounts run by real, live people — not bots — in Venezuela, Iran, and Syria. Those erased from the website included heads of state, numerous state institutions, media outlets, and many average people who do not work for their governments.

The supreme leader of Iran, president of Syria, and leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly have all had their Twitter accounts temporarily suspended or restricted in recent days. Numerous alternative media outlets have suffered the same fate.

At the same time, Facebook, and its subsidiary Instagram, has announced that it will be censoring content that it deems to be supportive of Iran’s top General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in a U.S. act of war on Jan. 3.

The Big Tech giant said this censorship of users’ free speech will be done in order to comply with Washington’s suffocating sanctions on Iran.

This draconian crackdown on social media comes while the Trump administration is aggressively expanding its economic and diplomatic warfare against these independent countries, in hopes of ultimately overthrowing their sovereign governments.

The Grayzone spoke with some of the Venezuelan and Iranian civilian activists who do not work for their governments but who had their Twitter accounts suspended. They all said they were not given any warning, notice, or even an explanation why they were blocked from the platform.

As The Grayzone has previously reported, Big Tech corporations are closely linked to the U.S. government, and have increasingly acted as an extension of it, purging the accounts of officials from foreign governments that are targeted by Washington for regime change, also including China, Russia, Cuba, Palestine and beyond.

In early 2020, this social media warfare dramatically escalated.

Twitter Purges Venezuelan Accounts

Twitter has on numerous occasions suspended hundreds of accounts run by Venezuelans, in a series of purges targeting not only government-linked profiles but also those run by civilian activists from the leftist Chavista movement.

The social media giant has done this while simultaneously verifying and promoting the accounts of U.S.-backed opposition activists and coup-mongers, like Juan Guaidó and his rapidly fading shadow regime.

The Grayzone has previously reported on how Twitter relies on organizations funded by the U.S. government and European allies to crack down on foreign state media and suspend accounts that challenge Washington’s narratives.

On Jan. 7, the Big Tech corporation carried out yet another round of suspensions. When The Grayzone contacted with the company with a request for comment, it  did not give a clear reason.

In this latest purge, Twitter suspended the official accounts of Venezuela’s National Guard, Navy, Air Force, Strategic Command, Petroleum Ministry, Penitentiary Services Ministry, National Commission of Information Technology, and Foundation Engineering Institute.

The office of the government of the Capital District, the office of the vice president of the economy, and the press office of the armed forces also had their accounts removed by Twitter.

Together, these blocked accounts had millions of followers.

The accounts of Venezuela’s Central Bank and Ministry of Economics and Finance were temporarily taken down, but later restored.

Venezuelan media outlets that challenge the right-wing narratives pushed by the major corporate media networks and Washington were also censored. Twitter suspended the accounts of the major radio station La Radio del Sur; the popular news website Red Radio Venezuela; and Ciudad CCS, the newspaper of the municipality of Caracas, the capital of the country.

Twitter has on numerous occasions suspended the accounts of Venezuela’s elected President Nicolás Maduro, although in response to widespread outrage it later brought them back.

But not all the Venezuelans who were deplatformed worked for state-backed institutions. Popular Chavista activists like Patricia Dorta, who had nearly 40,000 followers; and Yepfri Arguello had their accounts suspended, without explanation, in the Jan. 7 purge.

Individual government officials were targeted as well. Twitter suspended the accounts of Víctor Clark, the governor of the state of Falcón from the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV); Jesús Suárez Chourio, the former general commander of Venezuela’s military; and Hugbel Roa, an elected represented in the National Assembly also from PSUV.

Kenny Ossa, a prominent activist advocating for technology education and freedom of access to information who serves as the president of Venezuela’s National Center of Information Technology, had his account removed for the second time.

Twitter also suspended the profile of prominent Venezuelan activist Freddy Bernal, a leader in the Chavista movement who helps oversee the government’s CLAP food program, which provides some 7 million families receive large boxes of food for a few pennies. His account was however later restored.

In its series of purges, Twitter has almost without exception targeted Venezuelans from the leftist Chavista movement, which Washington has tried to crush since it first came to power in the 1998 election of President Hugo Chávez.

But in what appears to be a first, Twitter went after a major right-wing Venezuelan opposition politician in its Jan.  7 purge.

The social media corporation restricted the account of Venezuelan lawmaker Luis Parra days after he was elected president of the National Assembly. Unlike the others censored by Twitter, Parra is from Primero Justicia, a right-wing opposition party that is backed by the U.S. government.

The restriction of a right-wing Venezuelan opposition leader at exactly the moment when that figure was condemned by Washington is among the clearest indications of the US government’s influence over Twitter.

The Grayzone spoke with Dhaymi Peña, who manages the station La Radio del Sur whose account was suspended by Twitter. She said the social media worker who runs the account was sent a notice that their profile was taken down, and provided a link to Twitter’s guidelines. “But there was not a direct reason,” Peña said, “rather just the general rules.”

“It is difficult for us,” she commented, noting that other Venezuelan media outlets have also suffered from these suspensions.

Vanessa Gutiérrez, a Venezuelan journalist who hosts a show on La Radio del Sur, has also had her own personal Twitter account suspended twice. She told The Grayzone that her profile was suspended for the second time in October 2019, but after numerous petitions to the company, it was later restored.

“There was a massive attack against accounts run by the government and media outlets,” Gutiérrez said. “It seems like they were trying a test run.”

“When they suspend the accounts, they always direct you to the rules. But they don’t give you proof of the ‘infraction,’” she explained.

The Venezuelan journalist added, “There is no excuse given, they simply silence us.”

 Twitter Suspends Iranian Outlets, Activists

Iran has also faced a wave of social media censorship at precisely the same time it has come under the gun of the U.S. government. Iranian officials, media outlets, and activists have been censored by Twitter in an accelerated purge this month.

The Grayzone has previously documented how Google, Facebook, and Twitter have removed social media accounts of real-life Iranians, including journalists.

In the wake of the Trump administration’s execution of Iran’s top general Soleimani, a clear act of war, Twitter moved to restrict the account of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Twitter has also in the past suspended Khamenei’s Spanish-language account. And it has banned an account that posted videos and excerpts of speeches of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

In the days after the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani, Twitter likewise suspended the official account of HispanTV, an Iranian government-backed Spanish-language media outlet that is popular in Latin America.

After a massive backlash, however, the Big Tech corporation agreed to restore HispanTV’s profile.

In addition to HispanTV, Twitter has suspended the account of the Iranian state-backed media outlet Al-Alam News.

Many individual Iranians have been targeted as well. Users posted lists of dozens of Iranians who had their accounts taken down. These included many prominent activists, journalists, and researchers who challenged Western propaganda and disinformation against their country.

Ahmad Nozoori, an Iranian researcher and political analyst who does not work for his government, had his Twitter account suspended after spending years building up his following.

“I couldn’t believe they did this,” Noroozi told The Grayzone. “In fact, I hardly use Twitter on an every day basis. My usage was limited to follow some friends and journalists.”

“The world has to know what is really going on,” Noroozi said. “Secretary Pompeo was with the idea that people of Iran and Iraq would cheer the assassination [of Soleimani]. The U.S. media was promoting the same nonsense and depicting martyrdom of Soleimani as a good thing. What is the benefit of citizen journalism if you can’t use social media platforms to tell the reality?”

“I tried to update my followers over Twitter about the situation with both my eyewitness reporting – mostly with my own taken images and videos – and the news Iranian media provided about the retaliatory attack on the U.S. base,” he explained. “It is clear the mind-controllers didn’t like that I do my reporting in English. They would rather keep everything in the dark and spread their one-way narrative.”

Twitter Suspends Syrian President’s Account

It is not just government institutions, media outlets, and activists who have been targeted by Twitter’s purge. The Big Tech corporation has even gone after foreign heads of state whom Washington has been trying to overthrow.

Syria has also been targeted in these Twitter crackdowns.

On Jan. 4, Twitter temporarily suspended the official Twitter account of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A few days later, amid backlash, it restored the account.

Twitter has repeatedly suspended and restricted the profile of Syria’s president, forcing the country’s presidential office to create multiple accounts (neither of which has verified by the company).

As with Iran and Venezuela, Syria’s government is internationally recognized and sits at the United Nations. But the United States and its allies have been committed to toppling all of these governments and replacing them with right-wing opposition factions that are subservient to Western interests. And social media corporations have dutifully catered to Washington’s agenda, stiffing free speech in the process.

The Grayzone contacted Twitter with a detailed request for comment responding to the main points made above.

A spokesperson from the company responded with just two boilerplate sentences: “Twitter has proactive systems which aim to detect platform manipulation at scale as part of our focus to improve the health of conversations on the service. Sometimes this might result in false positives, which can be appealed by any account owner.”

Facebook & Instagram Join Thought Police

Twitter is by no means the only social media corporation targeting the US government’s Official Enemies. Instagram and its owner Facebook have also suspended hundreds of Venezuelan, Iranian, and Syrian accounts, expressly citing U.S. government sanctions as the justification.

Days after Facebook censored a video from The Grayzone that reported factually on the speeches of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and Lebanese Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, the Big Tech company took down a video of a Syrian Christian pastor who praised Iranian General Soleimani for defeating ISIS and other Takfiri extremists.

Lebanese researcher Hadi Nasrallah translated and published a video of the Syrian Christian reverend Ibrahim Naseir, whose church was destroyed by Western-backed Salafi-jihadists that occupied the city of Aleppo.

In his post, Hadi Nasrallah wrote “Q*ssem S*leim*ni,” afraid that using the late general’s full name would trigger Facebook’s algorithm. But his video and post were still removed, showing how the U.S,-based social media corporation is stifling the speech of people thousands of miles away in Lebanon.

These increasingly authoritarian crackdowns show more and more how Big Tech corporations act as an arm of the U.S. government and its foreign policy.

In 2018, when Facebook removed the pages of alternative media outlets that challenged Washington’s narratives, Jamie Fly, a U.S. government-backed neoconservative operative, promised that it was just the beginning.” (Fly soon after became the president and CEO of the U.S. government’s propaganda arm Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL.)

Fly’s vow came true in the early weeks of 2020, as the U.S. military-intelligence apparatus pushed social media giants to suppress the viewpoints of millions of people across the globe, especially those living in designated enemy states.

This is government censorship by proxy, demolishing civil rights in order to conceal inconvenient facts from the public.

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a reporter for The Grayzone, and the producer of the Moderate Rebels” podcast,” which he co-hosts with Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.

This article is from The Grayzone.

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19 comments for “Under US Pressure, Social Media Companies Suspend Venezuelan, Iranian & Syrian Accounts

  1. JWalters
    January 17, 2020 at 19:28

    The widespread coordination of this censorship effort shows it is being directed from VERY high up in the financial control tower.

    More on censorship today.

    “MuzzleWatch: The forces of censorship are unrelenting”
    mondoweiss (dot) net/2020/01/muzzlewatch-the-forces-of-censorship-are-unrelenting/

    “ADL lies about me so as to shut down discussion of Israel’s role in Soleimani killing”
    mondoweiss (dot) net/2020/01/adl-lies-about-me-so-as-to-shut-down-discussion-of-israels-role-in-soleimani-killing/

    The fact that clickable links here at CN are some type of security risk is obviously part of this widespread censorship program.

  2. Dennis ONeill
    January 17, 2020 at 17:23

    Pres. Trump, whatever your opinion of him, provides an invaluable service for Americans which is he repeatedly identifies main stream media as an enemy of America and the vast majority of Americans now understand that to be true. We who live in the U.S. know that #GoogleGestapo, which includes Twitter, Facebook, MeetUp, PayPal, WordPress and any Google platform like You Tube, Gmail, etc., are all deep state fascist social control platforms along with our presstitute bordellos like FauxNews, CNN, which along with ABC News has been caught multiple times either manufacturing news or censoring it, the NYT’s, the Washington Compost, NBC News, MSNBC, and CBS News. Most Americans get their information about our country and the rest of the world elsewhere.

  3. Ottmar Straub
    January 17, 2020 at 14:43

    Wow – it is fascinating to see how the snake is about to raise its head.
    It is frightening cause the snake will kill everybody who is talking truth.
    Otherwise the snake has no idea about the functioning of the mirror of consciousness.
    Stay vigilant – we work on it. What a time we live in….O

  4. January 17, 2020 at 14:01

    Can you imagine the special bureaucracy Trump has effectively created just to dream up, explore, implement, and review sanctions of a hundred different kinds for a hundred different countries?

    It truly represents a form of public lunacy, besides an immense waste.

    I regard it as dramatic evidence of America’s decline in meaning, quite apart from its decline in economics and in ethics.

  5. Mark Thomason
    January 17, 2020 at 13:19

    This is what I had feared. “Private” censorship by monopoly providers protected by government becomes government censorship. It starts with this, but will grow, likely grow quite rapidly.

    Censorship is far more important than any one third rate foreign government’s limited use of the social media.

  6. Tim Jones
    January 17, 2020 at 06:56

    I wonder how many people in the 5 eyes countries, think there is anything wrong with the assassination of General Soleimani? This alignment or coordination of authoritarian elements now supersedes party affiliation. How many distinctions are left between parties in our system?

    • January 17, 2020 at 14:36

      “How many distinctions are left between parties in our system?”

      When it comes to empire, with its trillion-a-year military/security establishment, the answer is “none.”

      And it’s been that way a very long time, something remarkably few Americans appreciate.

      The Democrats can go on and on debating this or that social program, but with the country focused on empire and spending a trillion borrowed dollars a year on it, the debates are literally a political game show. There’s no possibility of enacting any significant social legislation of any description.

      Apart from the hot air blown on proposals for social programs, when it comes to war and empire, the Democrats are indistinguishable from Republicans.

      Indeed, the Party’s given the world some full-time killers in Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama.

      Even highly progressive politicians like Sanders or Warren never really question how a free society can have a Pentagon and a CIA and an FBI and an NSA and engage in endless wars and coups.

      Any politician that does raise that absolutely fundamental issue, such as Tulsi Gabbard, is simply ignored by the party hierarchy and by the country’s corporate press.

      The work for empire is very rewarding for the elites committing their talents to it, and to hell with the rest of the people.

      The country is governed by, for, and of plutocratic empire.

      You really don’t have a country when you have an empire. And you certainly don’t have a democracy.

  7. José DeSouza
    January 17, 2020 at 06:48

    Until not so long ago there was no such thing as social media. And somehow people still managed to effectively communicate with one another. We as societies haven’t become better informed as a result of each of us being compulsively hooked to our smartphones 24/7. Quite the contrary! Make it harder for the spooks to eavesdrop on you (and then use all the collected data against you) by leaving your smartphone alone and as far away as possible from you for equally as long as possible.

  8. January 17, 2020 at 05:59

    Re: Facebook’s excuse that it’s censoring to comply with U.S. sanctions. To the extent that U.S. sanctions (laws) forbid publishing content on social media, those laws would be subject to an “as applied” constitutional challenge as a forbidden prior restraint on speech and press under the First Amendment. Such a restraint also impinges on the First Amendment right to *receive* information and ideas, a right corollary to the freedoms of speech and press. See e.g., Stanley v. Georgia, 394 US 557, 564 (1969), hxxps://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6728320798248524934:

    “It is now well established that the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas. ‘This freedom [of speech and press] . . . necessarily protects the right to receive . . . .’ Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U. S. 141, 143 (1943); see Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 482 (1965); Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U. S. 301, 307-308 (1965) (BRENNAN, J., concurring); cf. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510 (1925). This right to receive information and ideas, regardless of their social worth, see Winters v. New York, 333 U. S. 507, 510 (1948), is fundamental to our free society.”

  9. January 16, 2020 at 21:35

    An enemy is defined as “someone whose voice must not be heard”

  10. January 16, 2020 at 17:21

    As of this date, 16 January 2020, I will no longer answer Instagram, Twitter and Facebook messages.Nelson O’Grady Wight

  11. rosemerry
    January 16, 2020 at 13:39

    It would obviously be a great disadvantage if people could get points of view which were not the “official story”. It seems that many get their “news” from social media platforms, which is extremely risky at any time, and getting worse. I have found plenty of reports from non-US sources, including Hassan Nasrallah’s speech and the Christian pastor shown here, and NEVER use FB, twitter, instagram etc. So-called mainstream outlets like CNN, as pointed out by Caitlin in this issue of CN, are also in need of great skepticism and mature judgment (by the readers/viewers).

    I would like to point out that even using Mozilla firefox/thunderbird emails, I have a warning every time I click on CN (which I have used with pleasure and learned a lot for many years) saying that there is a link to some other (forbidden??) site and do I want to continue. Of course I continue, but feel invaded. Other sites eg informationclearinghouse (I have used for at least ten years) have “this site may be fraudulent” every time I click on. It is difficult to avoid the propaganda.

  12. Michael McNulty
    January 16, 2020 at 12:54

    US and UK censorship is getting so bad it’s like totalitarianism without the jackboots. Next comes the jackboots.

  13. John Puma
    January 16, 2020 at 11:38

    Totalitarian? Let us count the ways.

  14. Mike from Jersey
    January 16, 2020 at 11:09

    Bit by bit Washington is dropping even the pretext of being a free and democratic country.

    They are just keeping the bare verbiage of “freedom” as if that is the same thing as freedom itself.

  15. Mary
    January 16, 2020 at 09:50

    The need for competing platforms is real and urgent. A lot of young people already listen to R-T. Some check out Chinese feeds as well. I do not know many people who trust big-government-entangled media from the U.S. Coverage is so bad, I wonder if there are any humans there–if they just take pr feeds directly as if it were life-saving saline, which it is not. Some of the direct-feed channels do not seem to care if they make money or not, or if they lose attention from real people. We need multiple honest sources, to compare perspective–to compare and contrast, a practice that used to be taught in many U.S. schools.

  16. John Hawk
    January 16, 2020 at 09:49

    F A S C I S M…USA style. Pay attention

  17. Eddie S
    January 15, 2020 at 21:21

    Geez, this is starting to sound like China’s heavy-handed Internet censorship tactics that the US MSM is always rightly (though self-righteously) condemning. What’s next, the ‘two minute hate’ sessions at my workplace?

  18. DavidH
    January 15, 2020 at 17:14

    If things get real bad, there’s newcafe dot org. It runs on “Motet,” which to me is pretty cool. Once upon a time it was Utne’s blog. I’ve intended in the past to transition more to this platform; but, truth be told, I’m hooked like so many others.

Comments are closed.