The president has shown an ability to walk up to Twitter’s line without crossing it
President Trump’s critics on Tuesday once again asked: Why hasn’t Twitter deleted Trump’s tweets?
Twitter did, however, for the first time add a notification to certain Trump tweets, after the president tweeted that mail-in ballots would be “substantially fraudulent.” The tweets falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Twitter’s label says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to verified news articles about Trump’s claim.
However, those hoping Twitter will take bigger action against Trump shouldn’t hold their breath. The latest calls to sanction Trump’s account came after the husband of Lori Klausutis, an aid who died while working for then-GOP representative Joe Scarborough, pressed Twitter chief Jack Dorsey to delete tweets in which Trump baselessly implies Scarborough murdered Klausutis. In a letter obtained and shared by The New York Times on Tuesday, Timothy Klausutis asked Dorsey: “Please delete those tweets. My wife deserves better.”
A person with direct knowledge of Twitter’s rules and enforcement told TheWrap that Trump’s Scarborough comments, while crass and outlandish, do not violate the company’s lengthy list of rules. Detractors may point to Twitter’s rule against abuse and harassment, stating users “may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so.” The person with knowledge of Twitter’s enforcement said Trump and his social media team are well-versed on Twitter’s rules, allowing them to walk up to the line, but not cross it. In this case, the source said, Trump didn’t cross the line. The person also pointed out Twitter has, for several years, offered more leeway to world leaders than normal users when it comes to what is and isn’t kosher to tweet.
Twitter has long faced criticism for not taking action on tweets by Trump, including the time he warned North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un about his “bigger [and] more powerful” nuclear arsenal.
“Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said in early 2018. “It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”
The company also said in a statement shared with TheWrap on Tuesday that it’s “deeply sorry about the pain” Trump’s tweets have caused. That did little to satiate Trump’s critics, with several high-profile Twitter users calling for Twitter to punish his account in some fashion.
— Valerie Jarrett (@ValerieJarrett) May 26, 2020
Twitter, you share responsibility for Trump’s indecency. Do something about it. https://t.co/Z12zv3G88f
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) May 26, 2020
Twitter is a synonym for cowardice. https://t.co/H90CAp9zeM
— Mike Barnicle (@mikebarnicle) May 26, 2020
Hi @Jack. Big fan. Use @Twitter daily. Love it. It has given me a place to share my jokes. I'm grateful. Trump accusing an innocent person of murder, while the victim's family suffers, that's way beyond the pale. You have to act on that, fast and fairly, or what is Twitter then?
— JeremyNewberger (@jeremynewberger) May 26, 2020
Trump on Tuesday responded to Twitter’s warning about his mail-in ballot tweets, with several tweets, including: “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”
The president also doubled down on his claims against Scarborough, now a morning anchor on MSNBC, tweeting he would “always be thinking about whether or not Joe could have done such a horrible thing?” Trump added: “So many unanswered [and] obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?”
Could things change in the near future? Potentially. The person familiar with Twitter’s rules indicated the company is reviewing how it’s rules apply to world leaders; the person added similar tweets from Trump down the line could, after a review of its rules, lead to action being taken against his account, including deleting tweets.
Still, Twitter has already looked to find a middle ground between deleting tweets from prominent politicians and letting tweets that otherwise break its rules remain on its platform. Twitter’s solution last year was to start flagging tweets by world leaders that break its rules. The move would allow Twitter to continue offering wiggle room to politicians, while also acknowledging when tweets violate company policies.
While he hasn’t run into major issues with Twitter to this point, that doesn’t mean Trump has carte blanche to tweet whatever he wants.
If the president were to tweet misleading medical advice about COVID-19, for instance, Twitter would likely delete his tweets, according to the person familiar with the company’s enforcement. Twitter has already taken action against several world leaders on this front, after implementing a new rule in March banning tweets that go “directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information.”
Soon after, Twitter deleted multiple tweets from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for breaking its rules, including one from Maduro promoting a “brew” that would “eliminate the infectious genes.” Twitter has also deleted a tweet from Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, that said Hydroxychloroquine is a “100% effective” treatment for the coronavirus.
Publicly, Trump has made several unsubstantiated statements about COVID-19 — most notably, asking last month whether injecting bleach could be a worthwhile treatment. If the president were to tweet a similar statement, Twitter would delete it, according to the person familiar with the company’s rules. But so far, Trump has shown a sixth sense for knowing where Twitter’s boundaries are, allowing him to avoid any intervention from the company — while continuing to win new enemies.