Treasury faces pressure after report finds X may have flouted sanctions

A report finding that the social media platform X offered paid services to U.S.-sanctioned entities is renewing scrutiny of the Treasury Department's enforcement against the tech sector.

An investigation by a watchdog group found that the site formerly known as Twitter is "providing premium, paid services to accounts for two leaders of a U.S.-designated terrorist group and several other organizations sanctioned by the U.S. government."

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The Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit that scrutinizes major tech companies, found that more than a dozen U.S.-sanctioned entities appeared to have accounts on X with paid verification status, including Hezbollah leaders as well as Iranian and Russian state media. Hezbollah is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, and a number of its leaders are sanctioned by the Treasury Department, which restricts them from doing business with U.S. companies.

The fact that X now charges users for most verification privileges, a change ushered in after Elon Musk's takeover, suggests it "is engaging in financial transactions with these accounts, a potential violation of U.S. sanctions," the nonprofit said. Katie Paul, the group's director, said the company removed all of the accounts cited in the report after it was published Wednesday.

In response, the company said in a statement, "Our teams have reviewed the report and will take action if necessary. We're always committed to ensuring that we maintain a safe, secure and compliant platform."

In a statement to The Technology 202, Senate Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said X's "noncompliance" was "further evidence that Treasury must immediately increase its enforcement posture with respect to the provision of online goods and services to sanctioned entities."

"For years now, we've seen some of the largest U.S. tech firms flout sanctions compliance, in some instances facilitating and even monetizing content from sanctioned entities," he added.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who has sounded the alarm on the issue for years, said that X "must explain to Congress how it plans to stop platforming terrorist leaders" and that Treasury "should investigate Twitter's inexcusable financial involvement with known terrorists."

The department did not return a request for comment.

Warner's remarks come on the heels of a letter he sent to Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen last month highlighting the department's "failure to ensure sanctions compliance" in Silicon Valley, including around digital ads. Warner expressed "concern" that Treasury has "continued to ignore repeated instances of noncompliance by U.S. technology firms."

X and other platforms have long faced criticism for not kicking off groups sanctioned by the U.S. government and its allies overseas - and indeed, sometimes even profiting off them.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers called on Twitter in 2019, three years before Musk's takeover, to suspend accounts linked to Hezbollah and Hamas, whose leaders have also been hit with numerous U.S. sanctions. The accounts were later removed.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in 2020 called on the Treasury and Justice departments to investigate Twitter for "willfully and openly" violating U.S. sanctions by allowing sanctioned Iranian leaders to maintain accounts on the site.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, a raft of social media companies faced intense pressure to restrict access to Russian state media outlets in Europe, where they were hit with fresh sanctions. Companies, including Meta, Twitter and TikTok, later complied.

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