Twitter to Label ‘Abusive’ Tweets That Violate Its Rules – But Not Delete Them

Social platform will downgrade and label tweets from politicians that break its rules but otherwise serve the public interest

Twitter is once again adjusting how it handles political messages, with the company tweaking its policies on Thursday to hide, but not delete, tweets from public figures that break its rules against “abusive” language.

Previously, the company has said it wouldn’t take action against politicians like President Trump, even when their tweets violate company policy, because it “would hide important information people should be able to see and debate.”

Now, Twitter has changed its stance. In a blog post, Twitter’s “safety” team said it will now label tweets from politicians and political figures that break its rules. The label will apply to verified accounts of government officials with more than 100,000 followers, the company said.

The label will be used on “rare” occasions, Twitter said, and will be determined by a “cross-functional” team of company employees determining if the tweet is a matter of pubic interest. The label — which you can check out below — will read: “The Twitter Rules about abusive behavior apply to this Tweet. However, Twitter has determined it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain available.”

Tweets hit with the warning label will be algorithmically downgraded in its users’ timelines and search queries.

“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,” the company said in its post. “By nature of their positions these leaders have outsized influence and sometimes say things that could be considered controversial or invite debate and discussion.”

The new measure appears to be an attempt to find a middle ground between those that have called on Twitter to be more proactive in removing “hate speech,” and those that have suggested the company should take a more hands-off approach to what its users are saying. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has, on several occasions in the last year, said the company is increasingly focused on improving the “health” of public conversation on its platform.

At the same time, many of President Trump’s critics have skewered Twitter for allowing him to tweet things that ordinary users would get in trouble for. This was evident last year when the president bashed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for bragging he had a nuclear button on his desk. Trump warned he, too, has a nuclear button, but “it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” At the time, Twitter said Trump’s grilling was OK because “elected world leaders play a critical role” in shaping conversation. Moving forward, a similar tweet could likely result in the president receiving one of Twitter’s new warning labels.