Trump Twitter: What is 'glorifying violence' warning on president’s tweet and why is it important?

Post appeared to threaten protesters with being shot

Andrew Griffin
Friday 29 May 2020 09:14 BST
President Donald Trump with Attorney General William Barr, make remarks before signing an executive order in the Oval Office that will punish Facebook, Google and Twitter for the way they police content online
President Donald Trump with Attorney General William Barr, make remarks before signing an executive order in the Oval Office that will punish Facebook, Google and Twitter for the way they police content online (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Twitter has added an unprecedented warning to one Donald Trump's tweets, in a decision that could have significant consequences for the platform.

The company decided to censure a post in which the president appeared to threaten protestors with being shot, adding a message that the tweet "glorified violence" and partially hiding it from view.

It comes amid increasing tensions between Mr Trump and Twitter, and is likely to lead to yet more disputes between the two.

What did trump post, and what is the warning?

Donald Trump's tweet was posted around 1am local time, and was spread over two messages.

"I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right," the first read.

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"

The message from Twitter reads: "This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."

It then links out to a special page on Twitter's support site, which explains the "public-interest exception" that the company has used to argue that Trump's tweets should stay accessible even if they otherwise would break its rules.

What does the warning change about the tweet?

The most obvious indication that something has happened to Mr Trump's post is the large warning message at the top of the post. But the decision also alters the behaviour of the tweet in a variety of other ways.

First, the post cannot be seen, even on Mr Trump's feed, without clicking explicitly to "view" it. Otherwise, only the message shows.

Secondly, the tweet will only ever stand alone: all the replies that were sent before the restriction was put in place have been hidden, and it is not possible to see how many times it has been shared or engaged with.

Thirdly, the message cannot be liked, retweeted, or replied to, meaning that its reach will be dramatically reduced, though it can be quote tweeted if a user wishes to share it with a comment. What's more, the post will not be surfaced automatically by Twitter's algorithms, further reducing the number of people who see it.

All of those things apply only to the second tweet, which includes the phrase about shooting protestors. The earlier post in the thread still appears as normal, does not have the same restrictions, and at the time of publication had been retweeted 30,000 times.

Why is the tweet not just deleted?

Twitter has long argued that Mr Trump's tweets are newsworthy, and that keeping them on the site is in the public interest. As such, it has said that even posts that would otherwise definitely be removed for breaking the site's rules will stay online, so that people can see them.

That exemption applies only to tweets from elected and governemnt officials. That is because of the "significant public interest in knowing and being able to discuss their actions and statements", according to Twitter's support pages.

The decision to use the warning rather than remove the post will allow people to "view and discuss" the post while limiting its reach, Twitter has argued.

Those rules have led to significant pushback from critics, who argue that the problem tweets are still available on the site and that they could still cause damage as a consequence.

Why is Twitter's decision so important?

Twitter has long struggled with what to do about the president's tweets. On the one hand, he is their most discussed user, and the fact that he continues to post on the site is a major contributor to its popularity; on the other, those posts regularly break its rules, and often critics argue that the tweets could pose a danger in themselves.

What's more, those concerns have become even more tense in recent times, as Republicans including Trump have argued that attempts to censor or fact-check those tweets could represent a limit on the president's speech, and that they are reflective of a bias at the company. Any decision the company makes will be seen in that light, and is likely to prompt yet more criticism and pressure from high-profile right-wing voices.

And in recent times – especially in recent days – Mr Trump has suggested that he could regulate or even shut down Twitter if it does not comply with his wishes for the platform. Most recently, he signed a new executive order that looks to further restrict what those social networks are able to do with their platforms.

The new warning comes amid all that context and as a consequence will almost certainly increase tensions between Mr Trump and Twitter.

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