Oct 16, 2019

Twitter's "rules" essentially give elected officials a free pass

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Like Facebook, Twitter is giving elected officials broader freedom, but it's tough to discern where — if anywhere— the platform is drawing a line.

Why it matters: The company posted a statement on Tuesday aimed at clarifying its policies for "world leaders," but it remains to be seen if the rules are anything other than a free pass.

Who the policy covers: Twitter tells Axios it defines "world leaders" fairly broadly, including all who meet the following criteria:

  • Are or represent a government/elected official, are running for public office, or are being considered for a government position (i.e., next in line, awaiting confirmation, named successor to an appointed position).
  • Have more than 100,000 followers.
  • Are verified users.

Context: Twitter's latest post comes amid calls from Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris for the social network to ban President Trump.

What politicians can't say on Twitter: In theory, world leaders are supposed to follow the rules that apply to everyone else. That would mean no threats of violence, no promoting terrorism, no engaging in targeted harassment, and no harassing people of a particular race, religion, sexuality or gender.

  • But — and it's a big but — Twitter says it may leave up the posts even if politicians break the rules due to the "newsworthiness" of their comments. The company says it reserves the right to limit promotion of such tweets and to prominently note that the content has violated Twitter's rules. But it hasn't taken this step since announcing the policy in June.

What politicians can say: Basically — given Twitter's record — the answer seems to be "anything."

  • Twitter's new statement only reinforces that notion, saying, "Presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules."
  • Twitter isn't saying how it decides whether politicians' tweets represent "saber-rattling" as opposed to a direct threat.

Meanwhile: Chinese-owned TikTok said it is forming a committee to determine what its U.S. policies should be around content moderation.

Go deeper: What pols can and can't say on Facebook

Go deeper

Platforms give pols a free pass to lie

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the past week, Facebook and Twitter have codified a dual-class system for free speech: one set of rules for politicians or "world leaders," another for the rest of us.

Why it matters: Social media platforms are privately owned spaces that have absorbed a huge chunk of our public sphere, and the rules they're now hashing out will shape the information climate around elections for years to come.

Twitter casts itself as the anti-Facebook

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Twitter's move to ban political ads is just the latest of several moves by the platform to position itself as an antidote to what critics see as Facebook's missteps and ethical lapses.

Why it matters: The free speech banner Facebook is waving used to be shared by most of the big social media companies. A Twitter exec once called the company "the free speech wing of the free speech party."

  • But amid an extraordinary backlash toward Facebook from critics angered at its role in spreading misinformation, its rivals are distancing themselves — and are using the moment to frame their free speech principles as better suited to the era of social media.
Go deeperArrowOct 31, 2019

Twitter to stop accepting all political ads on the platform globally

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Wednesday in a series of tweets that the tech giant will no longer accept political or advocacy advertising of any kind on its platform.

Why it matters: Tech companies have come under fire as of late for policies around how they police political ads. Facebook, most notably, has been criticized for saying that the company would not fact-check ads from political candidates or politicians.

Go deeperArrowOct 30, 2019