Twitter CEO phoned Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar to defend Trump’s tweet that sparked death threats

Conversation took place on same day he visited White House 

Tony Romm
Friday 26 April 2019 10:40 BST
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New York Post uses 9/11 front page to attack Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar

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Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey phoned Ilhan Omar on Tuesday and stood by the company’s decision to permit a tweet from President Donald Trump that later resulted in a flood of death threats targeting the congresswoman.

The previously unreported call focused on an incendiary video that Trump shared on April 12, which depicts Ms Omar discussing the 9/11 attacks interspersed with footage of the Twin Towers burning.

The clip did not include the full context of Ms Omar’s remarks, which were taken from a public event on the broader issue of Islamophobia.

Ms Omar pressed Mr Dorsey to explain why Twitter didn’t remove Trump’s tweet outright, according to a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the call was private.

Mr Dorsey said that the president’s tweet didn’t violate the company’s rules, a second person from Twitter confirmed.

He also pointed to the fact that the tweet and video already had been viewed and shared far beyond the site, one of the sources said.

But the Twitter executive did tell Ms Omar that the tech giant needed to do a better job generally in removing hate and harassment from the site, according to the two people familiar with the call.

On Thursday, a spokesman for Ms Omar declined to comment. Following the president’s tweet, Ms Omar said on 14 April that she had witnessed an “increase in direct threats on my life – many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video”.

Other Democratic leaders later condemned Mr Trump as well.

In a statement, Twitter confirmed the call took place. “During their conversation, [Mr Dorsey] emphasised that death threats, incitement to violence, and hateful conduct are not allowed on Twitter,” the company said.

“We’ve significantly invested in technology to proactively surface this type of content and will continue to focus on reducing the burden on the individual being targeted. Our team has also consistently been in touch with Rep Omar’s office.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Trump is one of Twitter’s most popular yet controversial users, whose political salvos are broadcast to nearly 60 million followers each day.

Critics say his comments often violate site rules that prohibit hate speech, attacks on the basis of one’s personal characteristics and incitements to violence.

But Twitter ultimately has allowed the president to tweet without limit, arguing there’s a public interest in allowing a head of state to communicate such views unfettered.

President Trump attacks Ilhan Omar

But in recent weeks, Twitter has signalled it is rethinking that policy.

Company leaders recently said they are planning to institute a new approach that would provide more context around tweets that its rules would have prohibited but were permitted to remain on the site anyway because of the speaker.

Such a policy could result in public notations on Trump’s own tweets.

Mr Dorsey’s outreach to Ms Omar came on the same day that the Twitter chief executive met with Trump at the White House, a meeting convened at the president’s invitation.

During the conversation, Trump spent a significant amount of time raising his concerns that Twitter deliberately targets and removes his followers, the Washington Post previously reported.

Trump has made those claims in connection with his belief that social media sites are biased against conservatives.

But Mr Dorsey said that Twitter’s efforts to combat spam result in fluctuations in a user’s follower count, noting even he had been affected.

Asked about that meeting, Twitter noted in a statement that Dorsey and the president also discussed the 2020 election and efforts to stop the opioid epidemic. A source at the time described the meeting as cordial.

The Washington Post

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