Twitter has more tools to use against Trump, if it chooses

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WASHINGTON, May 29, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Twitter’s moves to label or
hide comments from President Donald Trump have escalated a feud
between the social network and the White House, but there could be
more to come.

The messaging platform has a range of “enforcement” options for
dealing with content in violation of its policies, each of which
carries its own potential risks and costs.

“Twitter has shown a newfound willingness to enforce its policies,”
said Daniel Kreiss, a University of North Carolina professor
specializing in politics and social media.

“If you’re a private company you have a right to regulate content,
and it behooves those companies to enforce these polices in a fair and
transparent and publicly justifiable way. I think Twitter will do this
in a consistent way.”

While Twitter could have acted before on Trump’s tweets, “I think
there has been a gradual shift in thinking at Twitter inspired by the
COVID-19 pandemic, and its thinking about misinformation that is
harmful,” said Tiffany Li, a fellow at the Yale Law School Information
Society Project who specializes in social media.

– Range of actions –

Twitter, which this week added fact-check labels to two Trump
tweets and a violation notice on another, can go further under its
enforcement guidelines.

One option would be to “downrank” or limit the visibility of a
tweet, or to remove it.

But Twitter’s policies also include a “public interest” exception
which would require leaving a tweet online but with the possibility of
blocking “engagements” such as retweets and likes.

Kreiss said that because of Trump’s importance as a public figure,
“I don’t think you’ll see a takedown” of his tweets but “you might see
actions preventing these things from being amplified.”

Twitter’s guidelines note that “world leaders are not above our
policies entirely” and that the platform reserves the right to remove
tweets that promote terrorism, violence or self-harm, or includes
private information about another person.

– Most drastic steps –

Twitter’s policies say the company may suspend or delete an account
for repeated violations.

Some of Trump’s critics have called for him to be “de-platformed”
for his conduct, but such a move could create a political firestorm by
acting against a leader with 80 million followers.

“They’re not going to want to put themselves out on a limb,” said
Steven Livingston, director of the George Washington University
Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics.

At the same time, Livingston said, Twitter may be making a
calculation that it can withstand the pressure as Trump moves further
to the extreme.

“The smart people at Twitter are going to want to test the waters
to determine if are they putting themselves at political risk by
standing up to Trump,” he said.

– Cost, and benefits –

Twitter has already triggered the wrath of Trump, who two days
after tweets of his on mail-in voting were tagged as misleading,
signed an executive order which could lead to tighter oversight of
social media platforms. There are doubts about the order’s legality,
however.

The San Francisco company carefully weighed its decision this week
before labeling Trump’s tweets for the first time, according to the
news platform OneZero’s account of deliberations.

“The company needed to do what’s right, and we knew from a comms
perspective that all hell would break loose,” spokesman Brandon
Borrman told OneZero.

Twitter drew an intense backlash not only from the president but
from “the internet mob” which directed anger at a specific company
executive, according to Li.

“This is troublesome because while Twitter as a company is a
relatively strong entity, an individual is more vulnerable,” she said.

The dramatic clash between Trump and Twitter may have consequences
for both, but both sides may also end up benefitting, according to
Kreiss.

“I don’t think Trump is going to leave Twitter because this is how
he uses it to communicate,” Kreiss said.
The conflict “sets up a foil for him and helps him mobilize his
base,” the researcher said.

“Ironically this is good for Twitter too because it now makes it
the center of fundamental debate going into the 2020 election, and it
will increase use of the platform.”

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