Twitter will allow world leaders to post tweets that violate its terms of service, but will enforce new rules about sharing those tweets, the company announced Tuesday.
Twitter has previously come under fire for allowing politicians to post racist content or target individual people. Sen. Kamala Harris raised the issue at the Democratic debate on Tuesday night, echoing a call she made earlier this month for Twitter to suspend President Donald Trump for tweets that specifically targeted a whistle-blower, in what Harris claimed was a violation of Twitter’s terms of service. Harris said action is necessary because Trump, with millions of followers, “is using that platform as the president of the United States to openly intimidate witnesses, to threaten witnesses, to obstruct justice.”
Twitter did not suspend Trump—nor will it take action against other world leaders, according to a new company blog post. Instead, if Twitter decides a politician’s tweet broke the rules, it will leave it on the site, accompanied by a disclaimer.
“If a Tweet from a world leader does violate the Twitter Rules but there is a clear public interest value to keeping the Tweet on the service, we may place it behind a notice that provides context about the violation and allows people to click through should they wish to see the content,” Twitter’s announcement reads.
Twitter first hinted at the new policy in June, but did not unveil the plan’s specifics. The site will still bar leaders from promoting terrorism, making “clear and direct threats of violence against an individual,” posting a person’s private information, revenge porn, encouraging self-harm, or engaging in child sexual exploitation (which is illegal).
Twitter also announced a new policy for interacting with politicians’ tweets that break the site rules.
“We haven’t used this notice yet, but when we do, you will not be able to like, reply, share, or Retweet the Tweet in question,” the company tweeted.
Curiously, users will be able to quote-tweet the offending messages.
“You will still be able to express your opinion with Retweet with Comment,” Twitter continued.
Not every politician will qualify for the policy, but it will not be limited to world leaders. In June, Twitter said that the rule would apply to verified accounts with more than 100,000 followers who “represent a government/elected official, [are] running for public office, or [are] considered for a government position (i.e., next in line, awaiting confirmation, named successor to an appointed position).”
For context, presidential candidate John Delaney would not qualify for the policy because he only has about 36,700 Twitter followers. Rep. Steve King, who has used his Twitter to share racist talking points and endorse a white supremacist Canadian political candidate, would be safe because he has more than 100,000 followers. (The now-former candidate, Faith Goldy, would have been protected during her candidacy since she is verified with more than 100,000 followers. She is banned from Facebook.)
Twitter’s announcement comes as Facebook faces criticism for its own policy, which allows politicians to share posts that would normally break the site’s rules against things like hate speech. The company also clarified that it would not fact-check claims politicians make in Facebook ads. YouTube made a similar announcement late last month, stating that politicians’ content was newsworthy, even if it broke site rules. Facebook’s permissiveness of lies in political ads drew national attention this week, after Sen. Elizabeth Warren launched her own pointed Facebook ad highlighting the policy.
The ad initially claimed, falsely, that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had endorsed Trump. Warren’s campaign soon added context, clarifying that “what Zuckerberg *has* done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform—and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.”
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