It’s a question that has long been asked: just how has Donald Trump avoided a Twitter suspension, given his constant threatening and inflammatory tweets?
If us mere mortals indulged in the sort of antics that the US president does, we’d have been reported and suspended before you can say ‘World War III’, yet, to all intents and purposes, it has appeared that Trump has been playing by a different set of rules.
People were particularly perturbed by this recent missive, which - it seems pretty fair and clear to say - appears to be a direct threat to kill another human being:
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Twitter’s own rules detail exactly what they define as ‘abusive behaviour’, with seven areas: violent threats; harassment; hateful conduct; multiple account abuse; private information; impersonation and self-harm. In this case, we’re looking at ‘violent threats’, to which the exact definition is: “You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.”
The tweet above is clear a threat of violence - indeed, so clear that North Korea themselves have (yes we’ll admit, they can sometimes overreact somewhat) interpreted it as a “clear declaration of war”. So why no ban?
Well, the social media giant has now disclosed for the first time that it takes into account ‘newsworthiness’ and potential public interest before deciding whether a tweet violates the company’s rules. Their @policy account issued six tweets on the issue:
We hold all accounts to the same Rules, and consider a number of factors when assessing whether Tweets violate our Rules 2/6— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) September 25, 2017
Among the considerations is "newsworthiness" and whether a Tweet is of public interest 3/6— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) September 25, 2017
This has long been internal policy and we'll soon update our public-facing rules to reflect it. We need to do better on this, and will 4/6— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) September 25, 2017
Twitter is committed to transparency and keeping people informed about what's happening in the world 5/6— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) September 25, 2017
We’ll continue to be guided by these fundamental principles 6/6— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) September 25, 2017
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey echoed these thoughts.
So, it’s official: Twitter is using editorial judgement on whether to ban people or tweets, and not simply acting as an unthinking framework.
It’s also now official: you can issue whatever threats you like, as long as they’re newsworthy and the public will be interested in them. Which should provide an interesting dilemma if and when a potential criminal issues a credible threat against someone or something famous - surely, given those same criteria, you can’t ban them either?
It also suggests that Trump has carte blanche to act however he likes on the service in future: perhaps not a surprise given the publicity he has given the service by acting as the world’s first president to issue policy and casually reveal classified information via Twitter.
The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017