Under US pressure, social media companies censor critical content and suspend Venezuelan, Iranian, and Syrian accounts
As the US escalates its hybrid wars, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are suspending accounts and censoring content that conflicts with Washington’s pro-war narrative. The Grayzone spoke to several people silenced in these social media purges.
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 US act of war on January 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 US government, and have increasingly acted 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 government and media 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 US-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 US government and European allies to crack down on foreign state media and suspend accounts that challenge Washington’s narratives.
On January 7, the Big Tech corporation carried out yet another round of suspensions. And even when The Grayzone contacted with the company with a request for comment, it still 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 even 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 January 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 even went after a major right-wing Venezuelan opposition politician in its January 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 US 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.
1. Twiter suspendió la cuenta del nuevo presidente de la #AN @LuisEParra78. La persecución apenas comienza para el grupo de diputados que decidió rebelarse a @jguaido, esto lo han denunciado los propios parlamentarios pic.twitter.com/Dl4Ot0RmuU
— Madelein Garcia (@madeleintlSUR) January 10, 2020
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.”
A los medios @laradiodelsur e @Hispantv también les suspendieron las cuentas pese a que no infringen las normas de @Twitter @TwitterLatAm
¿Por qué creen que los dueños de la red social toman estas decisiones?
— Vanessa Gutiérrez (@vgutierrezf) January 7, 2020
Twitter suspends Iranian media outlets and civilian activists
Iran has also faced a wave of social media censorship at precisely the same time it has come under the gun of the US 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 even banned an account that posted videos and excerpts of speeches of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
.@khamenei_ir account restricted by Twitter. pic.twitter.com/wPSMJuDdEV
— Sahar Esfandiari (@saharesfandiari) January 11, 2020
In the days after the US 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.
En momentos tan cruciales donde se debe dar a conocer lo que ocurre en el Medio Oriente, la cuenta del medio iraní @HispanTv ha sido suspendida. Twitter al servicio de la industria armamentista y del imperialismo estadounidense. Digo, por si todavía quedaban dudas. pic.twitter.com/g3Mr6FZJPB
— Alina Duarte (@AlinaDuarte_) January 7, 2020
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.
Ahmad Noroozi, a real person, was suspended for apparently being an Iranian with the wrong political views. Meanwhile, MEK and Saudi bots run rampant. @TheGrayzoneNews reported on Twitter’s habit of censoring real live Iranians: https://t.co/FawEF1LtvL https://t.co/SGbxEWdFre
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) January 8, 2020
“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 US 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 US 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 the 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 January 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).
Twitter has suspended account of Assad, president of Syria?. I wonder why? pic.twitter.com/8rbjWjuAni
— Thuo Kimani Githuku (@thuogithuku) January 4, 2020
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 and Instagram join Twitter as the US empire’s 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 US 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 US-based social media corporation is stifling the speech of people thousands of miles away in Lebanon.
Facebook took down my video.
Facebook sponsors terrorism.
I will soon leave this oppressive app.
“Freedom of speech”. Joke of the century pic.twitter.com/b8IGIQaKvm
— هادي نصرالله (@HadiNasrallah) January 11, 2020
These increasingly authoritarian crackdowns show more and more how Big Tech corporations act as an arm of the US government and its foreign policy.
In 2018, when Facebook removed the pages of alternative media outlets that challenged Washington’s narratives, Jamie Fly, a US government-backed neoconservative operative, promised that it was “just the beginning.” (Fly soon after became the president and CEO of the US 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 US 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.
2023 Media Layoff Tracker: Rough Year For Journalism Marked By Increasing Layoffs
Board members of the Texas Democracy Foundation reportedly voted to put the progressive Texas Observer on hiatus and lay off its 17-person staff following prolonged economic woes and shrinking readership, marking the latest in a brutal series of closures and layoffs rocking the media industry in 2023.
reportedly heard about the impending layoffs from a Texas Tribune article, writes a letter to the Foundation’s board asking them to reconsider the decision to close the paper and sets up an emergency GoFundMe page in a last ditch effort to find funding.The Texas Observer’s staff, who
cancels four podcasts—Invisibilia, Louder Than a Riot, Rough Translation and Everyone and Their Mom—and begins laying off 100 employees as part of a push to reduce a reported budget deficit of $30 million.NPR
tells Boston public radio.NPR affiliate New England Public Media announces it will lay off 17 employees—20% of its staff—by March 31 after facing “serious financial headwinds during the last three years,” New England Public Media management
lay off 34 people and close a printing press in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as part of Gannet’s efforts to reduce the number of operating presses and prioritize digital platforms.Sea Coast Media and Gannett, a media conglomerate with hundreds of papers and Sea Coast Media’s parent company,
told NPR.Three Alabama newspapers—The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Press-Register—become fully digital publications and reportedly lay off 100 people following a prolonged decrease in print paper circulation, Alabama Media Group President Tom Bates
reportedly became too expensive to produce amid a declining audience—an unspecified number of people are laid off.New York public radio station WNYC cancels radio show The Takeaway after 15 years on air after the show
reportedly told investors following compounding declines in profit.News Corp, which owns the Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins publishers, among others, expects to lay off 1,250 people across all businesses by the end of 2023, Chief Executive Robert Thomson
stops publishing its video game and kids sections, leaving 20 people unemployed a little over a month after publisher Fred Ryan foreshadowed layoffs in 2023—executive editor Sally Buzbee reportedly tells employees the layoffs were geared toward staying competitive and no more are scheduled.The Washington Post
reportedly tells staff.Vox Media, which owns The Verge, SB Nation and New York Magazine, lays off 133 people—7% of the media conglomerate’s staff— in anticipation of a declining economy, chief executive Jim Bankoff
reports, mere months after Fandom acquired the four outlets, among others, for $55 million.Entertainment company and fan platform Fandom lays off less than 50 people at affiliated GameSpot, Giant Bomb, Metacritic and TV Guide, Variety
according to publisher and chief executive Steven Saslow—an undisclosed number of people are laid off and severance packages depend on signing a non-disclosure agreement, the Oregonian reports.The Medford, Oregon-based Mail Tribune shuts down their digital publication after hiring difficulties and declining advertising sales,
lay off 75 employees as part of a broader corporate reorganization.NBC News and MSNBC
closes a printing press in Greece, New York, as part of an increased focus on online journalism, resulting in the layoffs of 108 people.Gannett
lays off 50 employees at an Indiana printing press to “adapt to industry conditions,” a spokesperson told the Indiana Star—the press remains open and the layoffs aren’t expected to affect newspaper employees.Gannett
From LinkedIn to TikTok: How newcomers are using social media to succeed in Canada
Data from a 2022 survey by CBC’s Media Technology Monitor (MTM) indicates that nearly half (42%) of surveyed “newcomers who have consumed news within the last month cited social media as their go-to news source.”
According to the survey, over three-in-ten (31%) Canadian newcomers who use social media use “six or more platforms.”
Put simply, social media is a significant part of the lived experience for many Canadian newcomers. From finding job opportunities and building a support network to learning about Canadian culture and staying connected with loved ones back home, social media offers a wide range of benefits to new Canadian immigrants.
Discover if You Are Eligible for Canadian Immigration
There are many ways social media can help new immigrants succeed, both before and after they arrive in Canada.
Building a strong personal brand
In 2022, 256,000 permanent residents landed in Canada through economic immigration streams. As defined by the Canadian government, this immigration category focuses on choosing “skilled immigrants who are able to settle in Canada and contribute to [the] economy.” This contribution occurs, largely, because these immigrants arrive and find employment in Canada, which allows them to contribute to the economy by then spending money on goods and services.
It is vital that immigrants coming to Canada work hard to establish a strong personal brand, as doing so will help them during the job search and hiring process. Having an active social media presence means job seekers will be better able to market themselves and be accessible to recruiters or hiring professionals looking for an individual with their skills, qualifications, and expertise. In addition, as a job seeker looking for a good place to work, immigrants (and Canadians alike) can also get to know companies (values, culture, day-to-day activities) via their various social channels.
Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can be imperative in this journey, as many employers perform online background checks to analyze an individual’s online presence when considering candidates for a job position.
In fact, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Canadian companies use social media as a means of screening applicants, and 64% of companies find this screening method effective. This is according to a survey by The Harris Poll published in January this year. More than 40% of surveyed employers who used social media for candidate screening “report finding content on a job candidate’s social media that caused the hiring manager not to employ them.”
Here are three tips for establishing a strong, positive online presence:
- Be active and engaging: Part of creating a positive online persona is engagement. Find others in your field, experts in your industry, and regularly comment and engage with their content
- Share relevant and informative content: Sharing informative and relevant content related to your industry can help demonstrate your expertise and passion for your work to potential employers
- Keep your content clean and professional: Proofread your posts and captions, use a professional headshot as your profile picture, and avoid mixing personal content with professional content
Social media as a tool for employment opportunities
Once newcomers establish a strong personal brand, social media can be used as a tool for finding employment opportunities.
According to a study by Toronto Metropolitan University, “those that use social media are 3.5 times more likely to be employed than those that use traditional media.”
Using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, newcomers to Canada can connect with potential employers, research companies, and learn about job opportunities. In fact, Twitter and LinkedIn can be used to follow companies and connect with individuals in industries/professions of interest.
In particular, LinkedIn can also be leveraged by newcomers to ask questions of their connections, find helpful career resources and engage in conversation around professional topics of interest. Connections made through this platform may ultimately help newcomers to Canada build relationships and expose them to job prospects they may not otherwise get. That is a significant reason why LinkedIn has become an increasingly popular job searching platform. In fact, 2023 data from social media management platform Hootsuite indicates that 52 million people use the platform to search for jobs each week. Every second, 101 job applications are submitted on LinkedIn globally and eight people are hired through LinkedIn every minute.
Note: LinkedIn also offers employers the ability to post jobs directly to the platform, further enabling newcomers to increase their employment prospects through this application
Building a support network by connecting with other newcomers
Apart from arriving in Canada and establishing a professional life, immigrants can use social media to connect with others and form a support network, helping them become more comfortable with life outside of work.
In other words, newcomers to Canada can use features available on traditional platforms like Facebook (groups) to find others in a similar situation as them. Examples of Facebook groups to join include “neighbourhood” groups, specific to an immigrant’s local community. These groups are often where people share information about community events, a good way for newcomers to connect with other locals and build a support network, potentially leading to new friendships and opportunities.
Other examples of platforms that are known for community-building are LinkedIn and Reddit, where users can connect and form bonds with others over shared experiences and challenges. Discussion forums like the CanadaVisa Forum also exist for newcomers to connect and discuss their questions, concerns and milestones throughout the immigration journey, both after they land and settle in Canada as well as before they arrive in this country.
Embracing Canadian culture and enhancing the Canadian experience
New immigrants to Canada can also use social media to discover cultural events and activities, stay informed about Canadian news and trends, learn about Canadian culture, and enhance their overall experience in Canada.
Twitter, for instance, allows users to stay informed about what’s happening across Canada. Following news outlets, journalists, and bloggers on Twitter also allows newcomers to participate in discussions on current events, just like over 7 million Canadians already do.
Note: Aside from Twitter, subscribing to Canadian news channels on YouTube can also help newcomers remain aware of what’s going on around the country
Here are other ways to use social media to become more connected with Canadian culture:
- Use Instagram or TikTok to follow Canadian influencers who share insights and perspectives on Canadian culture
- Subscribe to channels by Canadian travel vloggers or lifestyle influencers on YouTube for inspiration and ideas on how to get more involved with events and develop a social life in Canada
Influencers, whether they are newcomers themselves or they were born in Canada, will share ideas on activities to experience, places to visit, foods to try and more. Influencers who are newcomers themselves often also share things that helped them get settled or feel at home when they first came to Canada.
Vloggers, meanwhile, often take their viewers on a journey through video, including to different parts of this country. This can help newcomers experience areas of Canada that they may not know about and learn about the general way of life in different Canadian communities.
Staying connected with friends and family back home
While it is crucial for immigrants to embrace their new environment, it is also important that newcomers to Canada do not completely lose touch with the friends and family they may be leaving in their home country. The power of social media makes staying in touch with friends and family back home easier and more accessible than ever before.
In addition to traditional video conferencing tools such as Skype and Zoom, social media platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger and Instagram offer a range of inexpensive international communication options. From free messaging to voice and video calling, these platforms provide newcomers to Canada with an easier way to stay connected with those back home no matter where they are in the world. Additionally, many social media applications enable users to share updates and photos, giving family and friends another way to stay connected with the newcomer’s life in Canada and vice versa.
Social media’s new pay-for-play rules
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios
Social media is getting pricier for users who want to unlock special features and privileges.
Why it matters: Users who once believed they were contributing their time and creativity are now being asked to pay up by cash-hungry platforms.
Driving the news: Elon Musk on Monday tweeted that beginning April 15, only tweets by verified users will show up in Twitter’s default main feed of “For You” recommendations. Verification, formerly a service Twitter offered public figures, is now available only to $8-a-month subscribers.
- The new strategy “is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over. It is otherwise a hopeless losing battle,” Musk argued. “Voting in polls will require verification for same reason.”
Between the lines: Musk has tried to shift more of Twitter’s business towards charging for subscriptions amid advertising pullback.
- In addition to charging users to be verified, he also began charging companies for access to Twitter’s API, or backend interface, something many used to be able to access for free.
Be smart: Other social networks have made changes to their feeds to prioritize paid traffic over organic posts, but Musk’s moves are more drastic.
- As The New York Times’ Mike Isaac notes, when Facebook transitioned its algorithm to prioritize posts from friends over Pages, brands and news companies were forced to buy ads if they wanted to be seen.
The big picture: Twitter isn’t alone in its push for more stable, recurring revenues. Other social networks, having reached a point of maturity and a slowdown in the ad market, are also looking to make more money from subscriptions and licensing.
- Meta launched its version of a paid verification subscription service in the U.S. last week. Snapchat introduced a new consumer subscription last year.
- Snapchat also last week launched its first enterprise software business, licensing its augmented reality software and tools to enterprise companies.
- “[T]his opportunity is major, not just for Snap, but for businesses of all sizes,” said Jill Popelka, head of AR enterprise services for Snap Inc. Snap will first focus on licensing out its tech and services to the retail industry before testing other markets.
Yes, but: Musk has announced many new policies and promises from his Twitter account that have fallen by the wayside or remain unfulfilled.
The bottom line: Users may not need all of the new paid perks they’re being offered, but tech firms are desperate to sell them.
- Musk admitted to employees this week that Twitter is worth less than half of what it was when he bought it.
- Stocks for Meta and Snap have both lost all of of their pandemic momentum since the ad market began to crater in 2022.
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