Twitter grants special exemptions to Donald Trump and other “world leaders” from its code of conduct, including from rules that apply to everyone else. But the social network — which is Trump’s go-to megaphone — says nobody is “above our policies entirely.”
Critics including presidential contender Sen. Kamala Harris have blasted Twitter for failing to take enforcement action against Trump, who has a history of making personal attacks on the platform. Twitter has defended its decision to hold Trump and other political figures to a different standard, saying it leaves up posts from prominent individuals that are in the “public interest” even if they violate regular rules. In June, Twitter added a further nuance, announcing that posts from politicians that would ordinarily be deleted for policy violations will be displayed with a warning notice in front of tweets (requiring users to click through to view the post).
Now, Twitter has clarified, there are certain cases when Trump’s feed could be blocked. In a blog post Tuesday, Twitter (without citing Trump by name) outlined specific areas that could lead to political figures having their tweets or accounts deleted. Those include promoting terrorism; making “clear and direct threats of violence” against an individual; posting someone’s private info; or engaging in activities related to child porn.
The controversy over Trump’s use of Twitter came up in Tuesday’s Democratic primary debate, when Harris challenged Sen. Elizabeth Warren about why Warren doesn’t support the president’s removal from Twitter.
Addressing Warren, Harris said, “I would urge you to join me because here we have Donald Trump, who has 65 million Twitter followers and is using that platform as the president of the United States to openly intimidate witnesses, to threaten witnesses, to obstruct justice… Twitter should be held accountable and shut down [Trump’s account]. It is a matter of safety and corporate accountability.”
Warren responded, “Look, I don’t just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House. That’s our job.”
Earlier this month, Harris’s campaign sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey urging the company to boot Trump for violating its ban on “targeted harassment,” citing Trump’s tweets attempting to “target, harass, and attempt to out the whistleblower” who raised concerns about his urging Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden and his son.
For example, on Sept. 29, Trump tweeted, “I want to meet not only my accuser, who presented SECOND & THIRD HAND INFORMATION, but also the person who illegally gave this information, which was largely incorrect, to the ‘Whistleblower.’ Was this person SPYING on the U.S. President? Big Consequences!”
Twitter, in explaining that threats of violence against an individual are an absolute no-no, also tried to thread the needle — it added that “context matters” when it applies to violent threats and further said that “direct interactions with fellow public figures and/or commentary on political and foreign policy issues would likely not result in enforcement.” That appears to suggest that Twitter believes that Trump’s tweets targeting the anonymous whistleblower are OK.
“We understand the desire for our decisions to be ‘yes/no’ binaries, but it is not that simple,” Twitter said in the blog post.
The company also said “we recognize that we’re operating in an increasingly complex and polarized political culture. These are constantly evolving challenges and we’ll keep our policies and approach under advisement, particularly as we learn more about the relationship between Tweets from world leaders and the potential for offline harm.”
Here’s the list of six areas Twitter said will result in enforcement action against any account, including political leaders:
- Promotion of terrorism;
- Clear and direct threats of violence against an individual (context matters: as noted above, direct interactions with fellow public figures and/or commentary on political and foreign policy issues would likely not result in enforcement);
- Posting private information, such as a home address or non-public personal phone number;
- Posting or sharing intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent;
- Engaging in behaviors relating to child sexual exploitation; and
- Encouraging or promoting self-harm.
Violations of these standards could result in action including account termination, for Trump or anyone else. According to Twitter’s policies, it will suspend or terminate an account “if we determine that a person has violated the Twitter Rules in a particularly egregious way, or has repeatedly violated them even after receiving notifications from us.”
There’s another area Twitter has taken action to remove content: copyright violations.
Twitter earlier this month pulled a video meme Trump posted that used a clip of Nickelback’s “Photograph” after a takedown request by Warner Music Group. And in April, the social network removed a Trump 2020 campaign video that used parts of the score “The Dark Knight Rises” after a complaint by Warner Bros.