X ‘Takes Payments’ From Sanctioned Groups

Social media platform X, formerly Twitter, has been accepting payments from groups barred from operating in the US, including militant organisations, in potential violation of US sanctions, a campaign group has said.

The firm granted paid blue check marks to accounts linked to Hezbollah leaders, Houthi groups and state-run media outlets in Iran and Russia, according to the Tech Transparency Project (TTP).

The $8 (£6) per month subscription offers a blue check mark, longer posts and better promotion by X’s algorithm, amongst other features.

The group said it found 28 accounts with blue check marks on X that belonged to entities listed by the US Treasury Department as being under sanctions.

Account linked to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Image credit: X/Twitter

‘Lost control’

TTP director Katie Paul told the New York Times the findings were “yet another sign that X has lost control of its platform”.

In a statement posted to X, the firm said it had reviewed the report and would take action if necessary.

“We’re always committed to ensuring that we maintain a safe, secure and compliant platform,” the company added.

X also removed check marks from several of the accounts.

Account linked to Ansar Allah, known as the Houthis. Image credit: X/Twitter

‘Robust and secure’

In a separate post X’s safety team said it had a “robust and secure” approach in place for its monetisation features that adhered to legal obligations, and was independently screened by its payments providers.

“Several of the accounts listed in the Tech Transparency Report are not directly named on sanction lists, while some others may have visible account check marks without receiving any services that would be subject to sanctions,” the post said.

The TTP responded to the post that some of the organisations it identified were not directly named on the US sanctions list, but were owned by entities under US sanctions.

The organisations identified by the TTP include an account operated by Ansar Allah, known as Yemen’s  Houthis, whose blue check mark has now been removed.

Account linked to Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, an Iranian-backed militia. Image credit: X/Twitter

Content controls

“The US imposes sanctions on individuals, groups, and countries deemed to be a threat to national security. Elon Musk’s X appears to be selling premium service to some of them,” wrote the TTP in the report.

It said other accounts included an account with the name and profile image of Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, which indicated it was “ID-verified”, which normally requires users to send a government-issued ID and a selfie, “though it is unclear if Nasrallah did so”.

The TTP also named an account identified as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, an Iranian-backed militia, which received a blue check mar in November and has more than 11,000 followers.

After taking over Twitter in October 2022 Elon Musk laid off thousands of staff and has since been criticised for a lack of content controls on the service – while also launching legal attacks on non-governmental organisations that highlight moderation failures.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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