Let’s all pile on Twitter. In February, Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans indicated that Twitter should ban Iranian government leaders in compliance with federal sanctions against Iran. Twitter replied, no thanks. Now, Cruz has doubled down and called for the DOJ and Treasury Department to investigate Twitter for violations of the sanctions law.
This puts Twitter in an awful bind, since Jack Dorsey has just caved to liberal pressure to somehow muzzle Donald Trump without actually muzzling him. What Dorsey is really doing is virtue signalling that he would muzzle Trump if it wasn’t so financially compelling to keep him around.
Now Twitter has editorialized about fact-checking and “glorifying violence” from the President of the United States, but has done nothing when Supreme Leader Khamenei tweets about slaughtering everyone in Israel. This leaves them open to a giant charge of hypocrisy (like what FCC Chair Ajit Pai tweeted), but does it really open the door for criminal investigations?
I say no. Twitter isn’t providing “goods and services” to Iran’s leaders in any meaningful way other than their (free) platform offers for any other Iranian, or any other citizen where it is not blocked (like it is in China).
In the company’s response to Cruz’s earlier warning, it asserted:
In your letter, you state that OFAC sanctions generally prohibit U.S. persons and entities from providing goods and services to the Government of Iran. Making the Twitter platform available for use, however, as a tool of communication, is broadly exempted from OFAC sanction prohibitions.
The arguments in favor of Twitter’s interpretation far outweigh those that force Twitter to determine which countries and leaders serve the public’s interest and which are “enemies” or under sanctions. Cruz sets a standard that makes access to Twitter a “goods and services” exchange, which aids those who use it.
Cruz’s interpretation lines up with the president’s view that Section 220 should force social networking companies to use an impossible standard of judgment as to the importance of a user versus the truthfulness/harmfulness of that user’s statements.
If Twitter truly wanted to be fair, they’d ban both Khameini and Donald Trump. The fact that Trump is being singled out for editorial wrist slaps while Khameini is allowed to post vile anti-Semitic rants is proof of nothing more than commercial avarice and hypocrisy. But that’s not illegal.
Forcing Twitter, by government coercion, to censor Iran, but to leave Trump alone, is a recipe for illiberal authoritarian rule of a free speech–albeit run by political biased operators–platform. It’s bad policy and would undoubtedly backfire on the very people who want to implement it.
I’d rather live with hypocrites than be ruled by the self-proclaimed pure. To quote C.S. Lewis:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”
Better just to leave well enough alone. But like Jack Dorsey, Ted Cruz needs to work his own virtue signaling.