Oct 16, 2019

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

Ina Fried, author of Login

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

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