Instagram on Fire for Removing Gen. Soleimani-Related Content -- Should It Restore It?

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Instagram is facing severe criticism home and abroad for removing content supporting the late Iranian General Qassem Soleimaini, who was assassinated in early January in a drone airstrike by President Donald Trump.

Facebook-owned, Instagram started taking down Soleimani-related content earlier this week, saying that it was acting in compliance with US sanctions on Tehran. The platform removed posts encouraging the general or spreading his ideas. 

In an interview with The Hill, a Facebook's spokesperson confirmed the news, highlighting that the removed content was due to the sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was on the White House's international terrorist organizations list. 

Soleimani used to serve as a commander of the elite unite of IRGC for decades. However, it turned out that Instagram's policy also affected people that are not directly affiliated with IRGC or with Soleimani. 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) announced in an official statement that the Instagram accounts of at least fifteen Iranian journalists were removed from the platform without further explanation.

Among those were the official accounts of Tasnim News Agency, the Iran newspaper, and the Jamaran News. In IFJ's view, the controversial move directly affects the freedom of information in Iran.

Some Iranian social media activists, influences, as well as human rights advocates also complained that their Instagram accounts had been removed. 

Alireza Jahanbakhsh,  a soccer player for Brighton and Hove Albion in England's Premier League, who has a verified Instagram account, said that his post featuring a photo of Gen. Soleimani was removed.

It is also worth mentioning that Instagram is among the very few Western social media channels freely available to Iranian internet users, the New York-based digital researcher Amir Rashidi, explained.

 The regime in Iran had blocked Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram, and they can be accessed only via a virtual private network.

Instagram has over 24 million registered active users in Iran, Rasidi noted, adding that for the majority of them, it is an essential communication tool. It is a shame that Instagram is censoring them, Rashidi said.

Richard Nephew, a senior researcher at the Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy and an expert on sanctions, commented that it is debatable whether social media posts supporting General Soleimani are helping the government in Tehran, which would be a violation of sanctions.

The Big tech world was rather surprised by the Instagram's interpretation of the US laws. For instance, Twitter and YouTube, have not followed suit and did not remove any Soleimani-related content from users not related to the Iranian military.

What do you think? Do you support or oppose Instagram's decision to delete General Soleimani-related content posted by regular users?