Twitter's rules address worries over 'peaceful transfer of power' in US election

Taylor Hatmaker
·2 min read

Twitter announced expanded efforts to fight misinformation ahead of the U.S. election — with at least a few hair-raising lines that throw November's stakes into sharp relief.

The company is making a game plan for what happens if the results of the 2020 election are unclear or contested, with a handful of newly articulated policies set to go into effect on September 17.

Twitter now plans to either remove or attach a warning label to any claims of victory prior to election results being official. The policy change specifically mentions that it will take action on any tweets "inciting unlawful conduct to prevent a peaceful transfer of power or orderly succession" — a shocking phrase to read about an American election, but a relevant one nonetheless.

"We will not permit our service to be abused around civic processes, most importantly elections," Twitter's Safety team wrote. "Any attempt to do so — both foreign and domestic — will be met with strict enforcement of our rules, which are applied equally and judiciously for everyone."

Plenty of President Trump's critics have expressed fear that he might refuse to leave office if he loses in November, but so have the president's former close allies. At a House Oversight Committee hearing last year, Trump's own former attorney Michael Cohen expressed early concerns about that possible outcome.

"Given my experience working for President Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power," Cohen said.

At a rally last month, Trump said that after winning another four years in office "we'll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign," saying that he should have a "redo." While his supporters might read the statement as a joke, Trump's critics see a president again testing the waters with an outrageous and undemocratic claim.

Twitter also said that it will remove or add a label to any tweets presenting false or misleading information about laws around civic processes, and the officials and institutions overseeing them. That rule could pertain to a wide swath of voting-related misinformation, including false claims around who can vote and what documents they need to show, if any.

The company will also act on any "disputed claims" that might cast doubt on voting, including "unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results."

Social networks are keenly aware of the looming threats to democracy lurking in November's election, even if they're rarely able or willing to come out and name them. Gaming out possible nightmare scenarios is a worthwhile exercise for Twitter and other platforms as they gird themselves for a flood of misinformation from users, foreign campaigns and political figures alike come November.