Washington — A campaign to drive designated terror organizations off social media platforms is proving effective on some fronts in preventing Hezbollah from reaching out to members and supporters through the Web.
Several key social media sites, including Facebook, agreed recently to delete accounts and applications belonging to the Lebanon-based group and its TV station, Al-Manar, which have both been designated by the United States as terror groups.
But Twitter, the leading micro-blogging website, has refused to respond to the call by some advocacy groups to block Hezbollah, in line with its general stance against suppressing speech on its platform. And YouTube, which is owned by Google, has rebuffed demands for a blanket ban on the group’s use of its platform to push out Al-Manar’s videos.
A report published July 27 by the Washington-based media watchdog organization Middle East Media Research Institute details the “extensive use of U.S. social media by Hezbollah.” Not only did the group have its official website hosted in the United States, but it also made its TV broadcasts available through Apple’s iTunes, on mobile device applications and through the two major social media websites, Facebook and Twitter. Al-Manar TV also has its own channel on YouTube, on which videos produced by the station are available to all.
“It’s a way to reach out to followers and potential recruits,” said Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director, who compiled the report. In MEMRI’s view, Hezbollah shouldn’t have Twitter or Facebook accounts or any other access to websites in the United States. “It is against the law,” argued Stalinsky, who charges that Twitter is violating America’s anti-terrorism statutes.
But the legal situation, it turns out, is complex.
Hezbollah has been designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and it is therefore unlawful for American citizens or U.S. entities to provide “material support or resources” to the group. This prohibits any business transactions with Hezbollah. But it also involves other forms of support, including “communications equipment.”
Al-Manar was added by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and it is therefore unlawful for American citizens or entities to provide “material support or resources” to the group. This prohibits any business transactions with Hezbollah. But it also involves other forms of support, including “communications equipment.”