Future Tech

X accused of taking money from terrorists by selling checkmarks to US enemies

Tan KW
Publish date: Fri, 16 Feb 2024, 10:36 AM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

Elon Musk's X has been accused of flouting US sanctions by providing verified accounts to individuals and entities affiliated with Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Houthi rebels, and other persona non grata.

The allegations were leveled against the Twitter successor by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), which published a report on Wednesday that revealed more than a dozen accounts belonging to sanctioned parties had paid-for verification check marks. An account belonging to Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Hasrallah even claimed to be ID verified - meaning the Lebanese militant would have to submit a selfie and a government-issued identity card. 

Along with Hezbollah leadership and affiliated media outlets, TTP found verified accounts linked to Iran-sponsored militia Harakat al-Nujaba, Al-Saadi Gadhafi - son of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi - Russian state-owned television network NTV, Iranian state media station Press TV, and Russian commercial bank Tinkoff Bank. Press TV and Tinkoff Bank have gold checkmarks, which at the time of TTP's research cost $1,000 a month. 

All of those entities, and several others included in the report, have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). 

The existence of these accounts on Twitter would not in and of itself be an issue - but the fact that blue and gold checkmarks on the service now cost money (Premium users have to pay $8 per month, and organizations at least $200 per month) means X isn't just violating its own policies, but also potentially those of the US government. 

"For years, Twitter … allowed US-sanctioned individuals and entities to use free accounts on the platform, an arrangement that some legal experts said was permissible under US sanctions law," the TTP explained in its report. Giving or selling sanctioned individuals and organizations paid-for accounts may cross a line, however.

Doing business with sanctioned entities and individuals typically requires a license or waiver from the government - and it isn't clear whether or not X has applied for or received. X didn't respond to questions for this story. 

X's safety team indicated it was reviewing the report "and will take action as necessary," describing the platform's monetization features as having a "robust and secure approach" to ensure adherence to legal obligations. 

"Several of the accounts … 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," X's safety team argued.

TTP disputed X's claims, saying the only way for accounts on the platform to have a checkmark currently is to pay for the Premium subscription service. As a financial transaction between a US company and sanctioned individual, accepting that money would be prohibited. Elon Musk's Twitter has at times given paid-for blue ticks to some people for free, we note, though.

All of the checkmarks have since been removed, the TTP said, and one of the accounts was suspended. 

The TTP report comes just weeks after US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Treasury urging it to penalize technology firms that were busting US sanctions. Warner's letter specifically mentioned Alphabet and Meta as providing paid advertising services to sanctioned entities. 

"For years now, we've seen some of the largest US tech firms flout sanctions compliance, in some instances facilitating and even monetizing content from sanctioned entities," Warner told The Register.

"This latest report showing sanctions non-compliance by X is further evidence that Treasury must immediately increase its enforcement posture with respect to the provision of online goods and services to sanctioned entities." 

OFAC places the onus for compliance with sanctions on US citizens and businesses. It's not clear if the Treasury plans to take action against X for, as alleged, violating sanctions. ®



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One would not bother if they are innocent and use the platform responsibly.

2024-02-16 11:11


its business.. things sold... with the globalization. its hard to know where its being sold.

2024-02-16 11:40

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