During the course of the “little rocket man” saga, and at various other intervals since Donald Trump has occupied the Oval Office, critics of the White House have implored Twitter to either ban the president from using the platform, or else delete tweets that have the potential to start nuclear wars.
As ridiculous as that sounds, it is true. There was a national outcry around some of Trump’s North Korea tweets and, both last summer and this week, he has made explicit threats to inflict mass casualties on Iran, even as he tempered the bombast with token nods to the plight of the Iranian people.
Trump presents a serious challenge for Twitter. Clearly, it is in the public’s interest to know what the President of the United States is thinking, but, on the other hand, his penchant for threatening other nations and (he would say inadvertently) inciting violence against reporters and opposition politicians, arguably puts him in violation of Twitter’s rules.
More important than Twitter’s community guidelines is the distinct possibility that something Trump says ends up causing an international incident or, in a worst-case scenario, an armed conflict.
I wrote extensively about this on April 23 in a post called “Death By A Thousand Tweets“. Here are some key excerpts from that post (which, if I can be so bold, you should read):
Twitter is a veritable godsend for anyone (individuals or entities) looking to spread misinformation. That’s one reason Donald Trump is so fond of his account. The President claims he needs to tweet so he can “get the word out”, which is true, precisely because the “word” is false.
But it’s not enough for Trump that Twitter lets him effectively poll the audience on critical policy decisions. It’s not enough that he can solicit uninformed opinions on delicate matters of war and peace from millions of uneducated followers and, in some cases, bots who Trump doesn’t recognize as bots. It’s not enough that a sitting US president – who already enjoys a bully pulpit like no other – is allowed to implicitly incite violence against a sitting US congresswoman solely on the basis of her religion.
No, none of that is enough. Trump wants more, and it isn’t even clear what “more” means. For the umpteenth time in the past two years, Trump accused Twitter on Tuesday of discriminating against him and of making it difficult for people to follow him.
“The best thing ever to happen to Twitter is Donald Trump”, Trump said at the time. “They don’t treat me well as a Republican”.
The president reiterated his assertion that Twitter is conspiring against him during his wild interview with Fox’s Maria Bartiromo on Wednesday (Bartiromo has participated in pushing a largely false narrative about “shadow banning”).
Well, on Thursday, Twitter unveiled a new policy with regard to tweets from verified accounts of public officials (or those running for office) with over 100,000 followers.
“In the past, we’ve allowed certain Tweets that violated our rules to remain on Twitter because they were in the public’s interest, but it wasn’t clear when and how we made those determinations. To fix that, we’re introducing a new notice that will provide additional clarity in these situations, and sharing more on when and why we’ll use it”, Twitter said, in a statement posted to the service’s official blog. They continued:
Serving the public conversation includes providing the ability for anyone to talk about what matters to them; this can be especially important when engaging with government officials and political figures. By nature of their positions these leaders have outsized influence and sometimes say things that could be considered controversial or invite debate and discussion. A critical function of our service is providing a place where people can openly and publicly respond to their leaders and hold them accountable.
With this in mind, there are certain cases where it may be in the public’s interest to have access to certain Tweets, even if they would otherwise be in violation of our rules. On the rare occasions when this happens, we’ll place a notice – a screen you have to click or tap through before you see the Tweet – to provide additional context and clarity.
Here is what the notice will look like:
This has the potential to impact the visibility of politicians who tweet things that are in violation of Twitter’s rules. Specifically, tweets flagged with the new notice will not appear in safe search, timeline when switched to Top Tweets, live events pages, recommended Tweet push notifications, notifications tab or explore.
Obviously, Twitter didn’t mention Trump or any other public official by name. But, the implication is as clear as it could be. Jack Dorsey has finally had enough of political figures (likely including Trump, with whom Dorsey chatted in late April) habitually taking advantage of the platform’s ambiguous “public interest” loophole to abuse the rules.
Now, America will get to sit back and enjoy the show when Trump invariably gets one of his tweets slapped with one of Twitter’s new “notices” and then subsequently loses his mind when he realizes that in order to express his frustration, he’ll have to avoid saying anything that gets his response flagged with the same notice.
“We cannot predict the first time [the notice] will be used”, Twitter said. Some good candidates include: The next time Trump tweets threats to Iran and/or the next time Matt Gaetz tries to intimidate a congressional witness.