Musk’s X sold checkmarks to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, report says

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A photo of Elon Musk next to the logo for X, the social network formerly known as Twitter,.

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A watchdog group’s investigation found that terrorist group Hezbollah and other US-sanctioned entities have accounts with paid checkmarks on X, the Elon Musk-owned social network that still resides at the twitter.com domain.

The Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a nonprofit that is critical of Big Tech companies, said in a report today that “X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, is providing premium, paid services to accounts for two leaders of a US-designated terrorist group and several other organizations sanctioned by the US government.”

After buying Twitter for $44 billion, Musk started charging users for checkmarks that were previously intended to verify that an account was notable and authentic. “Along with the checkmarks, which are intended to confer legitimacy, X promises various perks for premium accounts, including the ability to post longer text and videos and greater visibility for some posts,” the Tech Transparency Project report noted.

The Tech Transparency Project suggests that X may be violating US sanctions. “The accounts identified by TTP include two that apparently belong to the top leaders of Lebanon-based Hezbollah and others belonging to Iranian and Russian state-run media,” the report said. “The fact that X requires users to pay a monthly or annual fee for premium service suggests that X is engaging in financial transactions with these accounts, a potential violation of US sanctions.”

Some of the accounts were verified before Musk bought Twitter, but verification was a free service at the time. Musk’s decision to charge for checkmarks means that X is “providing a premium, paid service to sanctioned entities,” which may raise “new legal issues,” the Tech Transparency Project said.

Report details 28 checkmarked accounts

Musk’s X charges $1,000 a month for a Verified Organizations subscription and last month added a basic tier for $200 a month. For individuals, the X Premium tiers that come with checkmarks cost $8 or $16 a month.

It’s possible for US companies to receive a license from the government to engage in certain transactions with sanctioned entities, but it doesn’t seem likely that X has such a license. X’s rules explicitly prohibit users from purchasing X Premium “if you are a person with whom X is not permitted to have dealings under US and any other applicable economic sanctions and trade compliance law.”

In all, the Tech Transparency Project said it found 28 “verified” accounts tied to sanctioned individuals or entities. These include individuals and groups listed by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as “Specially Designated Nationals.”

“Of the 28 X accounts identified by TTP, 18 show they got verified after April 1, 2023, when X began requiring accounts to subscribe to paid plans to get a checkmark. The other 10 were legacy verified accounts, which are required to pay for a subscription to retain their checkmarks,” the group wrote, adding that it “found advertising in the replies to posts in 19 of the 28 accounts.”

We contacted X today and will update this article if we get a comment. Our email to press@x.com triggered the standard auto-reply from press+noreply@twitter.com that says, “Busy now, please check back later.”

Update at 4:28pm ET: After this article was published, X issued the following statement: “X has a robust and secure approach in place for our monetization features, adhering to legal obligations, along with independent screening by our 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. 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.”

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