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Twitter’s policy on what it will let Trump tweet is completely toothless

October 16, 2019
Trump at a press conference
Trump at a press conference
Trump at a press conferenceAP

The news: Twitter has used a blog post to set out exactly what President Donald Trump would need to do to be suspended or banned from the platform. He’d have to promote terrorism, post someone’s private information (e.g., an address), threaten violence against an individual, post intimate photos without someone’s consent, encourage self-harm, or get involved in child sexual exploitation.

The blog post, titled “World leaders on Twitter: principles and approach,” comes on the back of mounting calls for the president to be suspended after a series of tweets about the impeachment process and the whistleblower involved.

Twitter still gave itself some wiggle room even then, though. In the post it says, “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.” And of course, it does not mention Trump by name.

Different rules for different users: Much like Facebook, Twitter has decided to treat politicians’ accounts differently from ordinary users’ ones. Specifically, it is more lenient, because it claims that preserving politicians’ tweets serves the public interest.

The elephant in the room: Policies are worthless unless they are enforced, and Twitter has never suspended Trump, even on the occasions when it could be argued he has broken its rules. There’s no reason to presume that would change now, even with this new clarification.

Why now: The issue of what politicians can and cannot say on Twitter has come to a head in recent weeks as Trump has used the platform to hit out at impeachment proceedings against him, firing off tweets that could be interpreted as threatening or bullying. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris sent an open letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey calling for Trump’s account to be suspended at the start of this month.

“Trump’s tweets about the whistleblower represent a clear intent to harass, intimidate, or silence their voice,” she said. Technology commentator Kara Swisher has added to calls to ban him from the platform, arguing in a New York Times op-ed that he has “been given an epic pass on Twitter for whatever he does” simply because he’s been deemed newsworthy by the company.

What about Facebook? Its policies on what politicians can and can’t do on the platform are just as much of a mess. It’s ruled that politicians can lie in paid-for advertisements on the website, but swearing is going too far, apparently. And its policies aren’t enforced equally between all the candidates, according to an investigation by Buzzfeed News.

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