Trump mail-in voting tweets: Why Twitter didn't ban president's latest controversial post

Elected officials given extra freedom on site compared to other users

Andrew Griffin
Monday 24 August 2020 09:44
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Twitter has explained why it will not ban the latest controversial tweet by Donald Trump – despite acknowledging that it did break its rules.

The president's post suggested that voting by mail is a "voter security disaster", suggesting that it not only allowed for election fraud but also put those who used it at risk since the mail boxes are not "covid sanitised". Mr Trump gave no evidence for either of those claims.

The attacks on secure ballot drop-off boxes are part of an effort by the Trump campaign to block their use. It comes amid a surge of requests for mail-in ballots, so that people can vote more safely during the coronavirus outbreak, which has gathered sustained criticism from Mr Trump.

Twitter has taken action against those previous claims, and has done so with Mr Trump's latest tweet. But notably the post is still available for anyone to see, though it is hidden behind a disclaimer that uses must assent to before they can actually see it.

Anyone heading to the tweet will see a message specifically indicating that the president's post broke the social media site's rules.

"This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about civic and election integrity," it reads. "However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."

Users can click a button reading "View" to see the full post.

Ordinarily, users would not be able to see such a post at all, since it would be banned from view as part of Twitter's rules. But the company has repeatedly said that Mr Trump's posts are held to a different standard to those by a normal user.

This time around, it said that the post would remain live because of its "relevance", though noted that it would be restricted in other ways.

"Per our policies, this Tweet will remain on the service given its relevance to ongoing public conversation," it posted on its Twitter Support account. "Engagements with the Tweet will be limited. People will be able to Retweet with Comment, but not Like, Reply, or Retweet it."

In a follow-up post, it shared a list of rules about voter suppression and intimidation, which make clear what is banned on the platform. They include a restriction on sharing "misleading claims about process procedures or techniques which could dissuade people from voting", which is what Twitter said the president did, along with other banned posts such as falsely claiming that polling places or closed or that there have been long lines.

Twitter's public interest rules, however, mean that the post will stay on the site. Those specifically cover "tweets from elected and government officials", and the Twitter says they are in place because "sometimes it may be in the public interest to allow people to view Tweets that would otherwise be taken down".

Not all tweets from public officials will be covered by the notice, Twitter says, and some tweets may be taken down straight away. That is more likely to happen if the post "includes a declarative call to action that could harm a specific individual or group", or if it "shares information or engages in behaviour that could directly interfere with an individual’s exercise of their fundamental rights".

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