Twitter says it will now penalize politicians who break its rules against abusive behavior ― even if that politician is President Donald Trump.
Previously, Twitter tended to give some leeway to public figures ― including government officials ― when their most offensive tweets violated its terms of service, citing “public interest.”
But on Thursday, the company announced it would start making it harder for users to find and view some of the most vitriolic content that politicians post by labeling them as abusive and de-prioritizing such messages in searches.
“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,” the company wrote in its announcement. “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.”
The new rules won’t be retroactive, the label would be used rarely and none of the offending posts would be completely removed, Twitter said. They’ll apply to government officials and those running for office, who are verified and have more than 100,000 followers. In theory, they would help to curb the ability of government officials to tip-toe around the platform’s terms of service and freely harass or otherwise abuse people.
Politicians like Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) are among the politicians who have been criticized for attacking or threatening people on Twitter and skirting the consequences that everyday users may have faced.
According to the announcement, a flagged tweet will look like this:
Twitter and other social media platforms have struggled to successfully implement and enforce new rules on hate and abuse, as they have fielded complaints about their disproportionate power over speech.
Facebook recently came under fire after a spokeswoman told HuffPost that a white nationalist video by a prominent racist was not considered white nationalist content banned under its new rules (it later changed its mind).
In an interview with HuffPost in January, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had a hard time giving an example of what it would take for the company to remove Trump or his tweets from the platform, despite examples of misuse. Reporter Ashley Feinberg asked, “If Trump tweeted out asking each of his followers to murder one journalist, would you remove him?”
“That would be a violent threat. We’d definitely … You know we’re in constant communication with all governments around the world. So we’d certainly talk about it.”
Trump has been complaining of late that he has been treated unfairly by Twitter, without providing evidence of such claims. He told Fox Business on Wednesday that “they make it very hard for people to join me on Twitter and they make it very much harder for me to get out the message.”