Twitter plans to label politician’s tweets that violate its rules, but won’t remove them (Update)


Twitter has announced a new plan to label tweets which violate its rules but which it has decided to leave on the site because they are in the public interest. Twitter says the new labeling will only apply to government officials who have more than 100,000 followers. The site isn’t outright saying this new rule was created for President Trump but most of the news outlets writing about it seem to assume he’s the target. From the Associated Press:

President Donald Trump’s next tweet might come with a warning label.

Starting Thursday, tweets that Twitter deems to involve matters of public interest, but which violate the service’s rules, will be obscured by a warning explaining the violation and Twitter’s reasons for publishing it anyway. Users will have to tap through the warning to see the underlying message.

The Washington Post adds that the new labels will also limit the number of people that can see the tweet:

The company also said it will set up a special team tasked with enforcing the policy, and the notification label would appear only on rare occasions.

Twitter said it would deprioritize the labeled tweets in the company’s algorithms and search bar so that they would circulate to fewer people. The policy will go into effect immediately and will not apply to other influencers and leaders. It’s not retroactive.

“In the past, we’ve allowed certain Tweets that violated our rules to remain on Twitter because they were in the public’s interest, but it wasn’t clear when and how we made those determinations,” the company said in a blog post. “To fix that, we’re introducing a new notice that will provide additional clarity in these situations, and sharing more on when and why we’ll use it.”

Twitter’s full explanation is here if you want to read it. What it definitely does not do is provide greater insight into how these decisions will be made. Here’s all we get: ”

A cross-functional team including Trust and Safety, Legal, Public Policy and regional teams will determine if the Tweets are a matter of public interest based on the criteria listed above and the following considerations:

  • The immediacy and severity of potential harm from the rule violation, with an emphasis on ensuring physical safety;
  • Whether preserving a Tweet will allow others to hold the government official, candidate for public office, or appointee accountable for their statements;
  • Whether there are other sources of information about this statement available for the public to stay informed;
  • If removal would inadvertently hide context or prevent people from understanding an issue of public concern; and
  • If the Tweet provides a unique context or perspective not available elsewhere that is necessary to a broader discussion

Does that seem crystal clear to you? To me, it sounds like a vague set of guidelines that will be acted upon based on the prior assumptions of the unnamed people making the decisions at Trust and Safety.

The new rules won’t be retroactive but I wonder how this would have applied to Trump’s tweet featuring a video critical of Rep. Omar. That seemed like a fair hit to me but I have no doubt there were people at Trust and Safety who saw it differently and could have filtered it through the rules above to conclude it needed to be labeled as a violation and downgraded. Frankly, I bet they could do the same with Trump’s silly tweet featuring him wrestling CNN. Someone must have thought that presented a threat to physical safety.

Bottom line: This doesn’t really clarify how these decisions will be made and the whole exercise seems pointless since the tweets will remain on the site. I guess the real point is to give Twitter something to point to when progressives complain about Trump’s tweets. Now they can say, ‘Hey, we labeled it.’

Update: This is a pretty good analogy.

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