What seems to be a discriminate policy by Facebook is being questioned, as reporters seek answers as to why some political leaders are blocked on the social media platform while others who fall into the same designated category are not.
The United States imposed travel and economic sanctions on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in December, stemming from allegations of human rights and other abuses. Facebook reportedly said that a “legal obligation” forced them to disable his accounts, as he was on a US sanctions list.
Also on the US sanctions list are Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Guatemalan congressman Julio Antonio Juarez. According to The Guardian, Facebook has left their accounts intact.
Facebook declined to explain why it had deleted some accounts but not others under US sanctions law. A company spokeswoman told the Guardian: “We operate under the constraints of US laws, which vary by circumstance.”
“We will continue to work with appropriate government authorities to ensure we meet our legal obligations and to explore options for complying with the law in a way that maximizes free expression on our platform and keeps people safe.”
The case has raised concern among civil liberties groups, who worry that economic sanctions imposed by the US, in service of Washington’s foreign policy, are being used to censor political speech.
US economic sanctions are enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and are typically applied to individuals who pose a threat to America’s national security, whether that’s for alleged human rights abuses, involvement in drug trafficking, illegal arms dealing or terrorism.
American companies and individuals are prohibited from providing goods, technology or services to people on these sanction lists and people who intentionally violate the law face fines and imprisonment.
The fact Facebook has left accounts of other sanctioned individuals untouched suggests the social network may be subject to US government pressure behind the scenes.
As Facebook cannot offer a clear or reasoned explanation for why Kadyrov’s account was seemingly targeted for deletion above others, the Guardian notes that the Kadyrov case serves as “a reminder of the power the platform wields in its moderation decisions, which can have a chilling effect on free speech.”
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