On Sept. 23, Trump tweeted, “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho swiftly responded, claiming the threat against North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un (“Rocket Man”) was a declaration of war. North Korea claimed it would begin taking self-defensive countermeasures, including shooting down U.S. military planes, even if they aren’t flying over the country. Kim also fired back at Trump, vowing, “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
Trump’s tweet received immediate backlash, with many users suggesting it should be taken down because it violates Twitter’s terms of service, which prohibit accounts from promoting violence against or directly attacking or threatening people based on race, religion, gender, age, disability, and several other categories. According to those rules under both the “Violent threats” and “Hateful conduct” sections, such action would result in the account being suspended.
But Trump’s tweet remained, and people’s anger shifted toward Twitter.
In a surprise move, the company addressed complaints directly instead of defaulting to its stance that it won’t comment on individual accounts. In a six-tweet thread posted on Monday, the “Twitter PublicPolicy” account said Trump’s post would remain on the social platform because it’s newsworthy and in the “public interest”—a rule it claims has been an “internal policy” at the company.
Twitter promised to add it to its public-facing rules to avoid confusion.
We hold all accounts to the same Rules, and consider a number of factors when assessing whether Tweets violate our Rules 2/6— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) September 25, 2017
This has long been internal policy and we'll soon update our public-facing rules to reflect it. We need to do better on this, and will 4/6— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) September 25, 2017
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who previously said his feelings about Trump’s Twitter habits were “complicated,” tweeted Monday, promising to be more transparent.
We’re putting significant effort into increasing our transparency as a company, and commit to meaningful and fast progress. Will do better. https://t.co/g1Rvkaj2sl— jack (@jack) September 25, 2017
This is far from the first time users have asked Twitter to remove an incendiary tweet from President Trump, and it probably won’t be the last. But its convenient internal policy raises several more questions: “How much can Trump get away with?” and “What will it take for Twitter to take action?”
Twitter user Mark Fletcher asked exactly that in a reply to Dorsey’s tweet.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone responded but was quick to deflect.
Didn't say that. Also, not going into the theoretical. Staying in the real world. It's crazy enough as it is.— Biz Stone (@biz) September 26, 2017
Twitter has been repeatedly criticized for its role in the 2016 election and failing to address the president’s inflammatory statements. Those criticisms come at a time when the social site is testing a number of features designed to clamp down on abuse.