Twitter's suspension of handles affiliated with Hizbullah-run Al-Manar TV is aimed at depriving the Lebanese militia and its Iranian backers of a platform through which to spread propaganda and incite violence, observers said.
Al-Manar TV announced November 2nd that most of its Twitter accounts had been suspended, claiming the social media platform had given in to "political pressures".
"Twitter suspended most of Al-Manar's pages on its platform without any prior warning," the channel posted on its website.
The suspension "included news and software accounts", Al-Manar said, adding that its accounts "have more than a million followers".
The suspension affected the channel's primary account in Arabic, as well as those in French, English and Spanish, but the Twitter handles of specific television shows seemed to be functioning, AFP reported.
"Twitter's policy is to remove or terminate all accounts it identifies as owned or operated by, or directly affiliated with, any designated foreign terrorist organisation," Carlos Monje Jr., Twitter's director of public policy and philanthropy for the US and Canada, said in a November 1st statement.
As such, all accounts affiliated with Hizbullah -- which the US Department of State designated a terrorist organisation in 1995 -- "will be terminated", he said.
'A very impactful step'
Al-Manar TV, which broadcasts from Beirut, was launched in 1991 with the help of Iranian funds. The US government classified Al-Manar TV as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" entity in 2006. It is banned in several countries.
The satellite channel and its social media accounts serve as Hizbullah's main media platform.
Twitter’s suspension of Hizbullah-linked accounts "is a very impactful step", said Hassan Qutb, director of the Lebanese Centre for Research and Consulting.
"It deprives the party of using social media to promote its project, disseminate its ideas and spread rumours," he said.
Many Al-Manar TV broadcasts include battle scenes from the conflicts in which Hizbullah is embroiled and glorify the militia’s slain fighters as martyrs, he said.
Hizbullah's goal here is "to plant the desire among the younger generation to get involved, to be honoured and glorified in the event they are killed on the battlefield", Qutb said.
Hizbullah "is using its media to promote the Iranian project in the region on the religious, cultural, political and security levels, because it is part of this project", he added.
Promoting the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which calls for allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei "is a fundamental objective of Hizbullah’s media in all its platforms", he said.
'Sowing confusion and fear'
Al-Manar TV and its social media platforms broadcast an endless stream of programmes that highlight Iran's role in the region, Qutb said.
Social media can be an effective tool for encouraging dialogue and building connections, but can also play a dangerous role in fuelling hate, he noted.
In this case, that means promoting Iran-backed projects and spreading baseless rumours to deepen the divisions between various social, religious and political groups, he said.
Al-Manar TV "broadcasts false news to sow confusion, fear and anxiety among the Lebanese, and stir up sedition and incite confrontation", he said.
"Hizbullah, and the Iranian regime specifically, attach great importance to the media," political writer Asaad Bishara told Al-Mashareq.
Iran has allocated huge sums of money for the establishment of satellite channels that broadcast in Arabic and are targeted to audiences in Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen, he said.
Meanwhile, Al-Manar, Hizbullah's official mouthpiece, is where all militia guidance and Iranian propaganda for the region are produced and disseminated, he said.
Twitter’s decision converges with the US decision to blockade Hizbullah, because it cuts off the militia's media arms, he said, adding that the suspension of the militia's social media accounts "strikes at Hizbullah's heart".
'A front for Iranian propaganda'
Hizbullah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburb has become a base for many satellite TV stations that broadcast to Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, Bishara said.
The programmes produced here serve to undermine stability and incite rebellion against the authorities in those countries, he said.
Al-Manar and other media organisations affiliated with Hizbullah and Iran are "political institutions that promote a political line and camouflage many things", said Beirut-based journalist Diana Moukalled.
"Hizbullah's media and the media loyal to it play a role in obscuring facts related to Hizbullah's role in Syria and Lebanon, and promote Iran's agenda and cover up its actions," she told Al-Mashareq.
Al-Manar TV and its social media platforms "serve as a mouthpiece for the party and the Iranian project", she said, adding that these are "basically a front for Iranian propaganda".