'Liking' Hate

Group calls on Facebook to suspend account of Iranian Supreme Leader

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei / AP
May 23, 2013

Facebook has not responded to calls for it to remove the official account of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who critics say uses the social networking site to disseminate radical propaganda.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a grassroots advocacy group, sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Monday urging him to immediately delete Khamenei’s account on the basis that it is used to promote the regime’s anti-American ideology.

"[Y]ou should be aware that Ayatollah Khamenei's official Facebook page appears to violate Facebook's Terms of Use, specifically regarding its policy on safety," UANI CEO Mark Wallace wrote in the letter to Zuckerberg wrote.

"For example, Facebook's Terms of Use state that users ‘will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.’"

"The page for Ayatollah Khamenei often displays offensive, anti-Western posts," he wrote.

"For example, on May 1, 2013, the page displayed an image of Ayatollah Khamenei alongside the statement, ‘You [the U.S. government] are the symbol of evil! This is you who wages war in the world, plunders the nations," Wallace wrote, noting that the account appears to violate the website’s terms of use.

UANI also has started a petition aimed a pressuring Facebook to eliminate the account. It has already garnered hundreds of signatures, as well as the support of high-profile media personalities such as former Bush administration spokeswoman Dana Perino.

However, Facebook had not yet responded to UANI’s request. It also did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment on the status of Khamenei’s account, which currently has more than 43,400 "likes."

"We are still awaiting a response from Facebook about this issue," said UANI spokesman Nathan Carleton.

Wallace also said that it is hypocritical to give Khamenei free use to the site while Iranian authorities block access for ordinary citizens.

"UANI believes that Facebook should not allow the Iranian regime access to its platform, especially given the fact that the regime severely restricts its own citizens' use of Facebook and when freedom of expression is so severely repressed in Iran," Wallace wrote.

Iranian citizens who try to access Facebook are regularly arrested and tortured by Tehran’s cyber police unit, known as FATA. Others have been prosecuted for using the site.

Facebook and Twitter became crucial tools for citizens in the aftermath of Iran’s contested 2009 elections. Protestors used the social networks to express outrage over the results and organize protests.

"The Iranian regime uses [Khamenei’s] account to promote its propaganda even while it bans its own citizens from accessing Facebook," Wallace wrote. "Moreover, in the aftermath of the fraudulent 2009 presidential elections, the regime severely punished citizens that accessed sites such as Facebook to mobilize protest and opposition activities."

"Iranians risk arrest, torture, and death for using Facebook, particularly when such use is determined to be political or ‘un-Islamic,’" Wallace wrote.

UANI is asking that the account be suspended ahead of Iran’s June 14 presidential elections.

Iran has already banned at least two progressive-leaning candidates from running in the election, according to the BBC.

"Only eight of the 686 people who registered as potential candidates were reportedly cleared to stand" by an election committee tied to Khamenei, the BBC reported.

Facebook could send a powerful message to anti-regime dissidents and human rights advocates by suspending Khamenei’s account, Wallace said.

"By suspending the official Facebook account of Ayatollah Khamenei and other senior regime officials, Facebook will be sending a powerful message to the Iranian regime that it does not tolerate the regime's denial of digital freedom for the Iranian people and that all Iranian citizens, not just the Ayatollah, should enjoy the freedom to speak up and express themselves," he wrote.

Facebook and other social networking sites such as Twitter have come under fire in the past for permitting Islamic extremists and even terror groups like Hezbollah to utilize their services.

Khamenei also has his own active Twitter account.