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Democrats Question Whether Elon Musk’s X is Profiting From Terrorist Groups

(Bloomberg) -- Two US House Democrats are probing whether terrorist organizations and sanctioned individuals are using and even monetizing their paid premium-service accounts on Elon Musk’s X social media platform.

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Representatives Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Daniel Goldman of New York point to recent news reports that senior leaders of Hezbollah, Iranian news outlets, and Russian state media have been among subscribers to such X.com Inc. services.

“If true, this raises significant concerns that X may be violating US sanctions law by facilitating financial transactions from terrorist organizations and other entities sanctioned by the US Treasury,” they wrote in a letter Monday to Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer.

The two Democratic lawmakers want Comer to commit to “swiftly holding” a hearing on the matter.

A spokesperson for X responded by pointing to a statement released following a February investigation by the Tech Transparency Project, which identified more than a dozen X accounts for US-sanctioned entities with a blue checkmark.

The company said in the statement it has a “a robust and secure approach” to complying with legal obligations, including sanctions. “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 company added in the statement.

Those who pay for premium X subscriptions can receive several perks and benefits, including the blue checkmark verification status on their profiles. Other benefits include the ability to post longer text and videos, broader amplification or visibility for posts, and even a chance to receive a share of X’s advertising revenue.

Raskin and Goldman assert X may have broken US law if the platform has sold such premium service to groups, individuals and countries under US sanction, or even potentially sharing in advertising revenue.

Included among those premium accounts, according to the report, were those of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and the terrorist group’s deputy Secretary-General, Sheikh Naim Qasem. Both are listed as “Specially Designated Nationals,” under the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Raskin and Goldman write.

Transactions with so-called SDNs are prohibited absent a license granted from OFAC.

The lawmakers also note that the X account for Nasrallah was reportedly “ID verified,” which would have “required him to send an image of a government-issued ID and a selfie to X, confirming that the X user was in fact Nasrallah.”

Following the February report, X removed Nasrallah’s blue check, according to TTP, and suspended multiple accounts.

Raskin and Goldman also raise questions about X accounts of other US-sanctioned entities, such as those belonging to Iran’s Press TV and Russia’s Tinkoff Bank, with “gold checkmarks” — a signifier of X’s “Verified Organization” status.

They also point to reports that some sanctioned entities may have received advertising revenue from X. Users who pay for X’s Premium services can receive a share of the revenue generated from advertisements displayed in replies to that user’s posts.

Doing so “would have violated U.S. law by conducting financial transactions with sanctioned entities,” the lawmakers wrote.

Raskin and Goldman note they already wrote to Musk and X Chief Executive Officer Linda Yaccarino in November about the use of the X platform to spread misinformation, hate and harmful ideas.

They said they demanded answers, specifically, for a failure to abide by the company’s own policies governing the promotion of violent and terroristic Hamas videos, including in the weeks and months following the group’s October 7, 2023, attack on Israel.

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