It happens like clockwork: President Trump logs on to his favorite social media site and starts tweeting. Immediately, Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey is flooded with responses begging him to deactivate Trump’s account — a request that has been echoed by at least one high-ranking Democratic politician and many opinion columnists.
But would anything that Trump posts on Twitter ever get him — or one of his tweets — removed from the site? Dorsey dodged the question in a Thursday interview with HuffPost, refusing to even clarify whether a call to murder journalists would hypothetically get Trump kicked off the platform.
The extensive conversation between Dorsey and HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg covered topics including the site’s ongoing problems with hate speech and harassment, and the persistent rumor that he had the rapper Azealia Banks craft a protective amulet from his beard hair. But naturally, the conversation turned to one of Twitter’s most prolific users: Trump, who has repeatedly been accused of violating the site’s policies with his inflammatory tweets implying that the United States might start a nuclear war with North Korea.
Twitter’s terms of service prohibit violent threats. It’s a guideline that the company felt compelled to address in September 2017, after 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!”
The tweet, which apparently referenced North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump has referred to as “little Rocket Man,” could easily be interpreted as a threat. But Twitter’s policy team said two days later that they had decided to leave it up on the site, saying that the company takes “newsworthiness” and “public interest” into account when deciding whether a tweet violates their rules.
Does that mean that political figures can call for violence on Twitter with no repercussions from the platform because of the inherent newsworthiness of their demands? Feinberg attempted to pin down Dorsey on that question, to no avail.
“So then is there anything that, say, Donald Trump could do that would qualify as a misuse?” she asked. “Because I know the newsworthy aspect of it outweighs a lot of that. But is there anything that he could do that would qualify as misusing the platform, regardless of newsworthiness?”
Dorsey didn’t give any specific examples. Instead, he replied, “Yeah, I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot, so I’m not going to rehash it. We believe it’s important that the world sees how global leaders think and how they act. And we think the conversation that ensues around that is critical.”
Feinberg then offered an extreme hypothetical: What if Trump were to post a tweet that asked each of his nearly 58 million followers to murder a journalist?
“That would be a violent threat,” Dorsey acknowledged. “We’d definitely . . . You know we’re in constant communication with all governments around the world. So we’d certainly talk about it.”
He declined to say whether inciting mass murder would get the president kicked off the platform, though.
“I’m not going to talk about particulars,” he said. “We’ve established protocol; it’s transparent. It’s out there for everyone to read. We have, independent of the U.S. president, we have conversations with all governments. It’s not just limited to this one.”
For many Twitter users, Dorsey’s unwillingness to provide specifics beyond the assurance that “we’d certainly talk about it” was not exactly comforting.
“This Jack Dorsey quote is almost unbelievable,” tweeted Brandon Friedman, a former Obama administration official. “We are doomed.”
Another notable portion of the HuffPost interview concerned Dorsey’s decision to seek out the input of a right-wing activist with a history of questionable tweets.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Dorsey consulted with Ali Akbar, a conservative activist and commentator who also goes by the name Ali Alexander, about whether to ban Alex Jones and his conspiracy website, Infowars, from the platform. Akbar had argued against the ban, the newspaper reported, making the case that Jones hadn’t violated any of Twitter’s rules.
Twitter ultimately decided to kick Jones off the site last fall, citing its abusive behavior policy. But Feinberg asked Dorsey whether he had been aware of Akbar’s own history of using the platform to point out which prominent media personalities are Jewish.
Anti-white comments from Jewish anti-Trump commentator, Bill Kristol.— Ali Alexander (@ali) August 5, 2018
This kind of bigoted thinking painted as altruism is in fact still bigotry.
We are all God’s children and no race or sex is destined to save the other. You sound like Hitler.
Ironic, you ethnic supremacist. https://t.co/mxug3as9f8
Jake Tapper, who is a Jewish left-leaning journalist who works at CNN, was obsessed with packages that could not detonate and the tragic Synagogue shooting but dismissed the FL GOP shooting today. Called it simple “vandalism.”— Ali Alexander (@ali) October 29, 2018
Our Media are Bloodthirsty to “get even” with Trump
Dorsey didn’t deny the report, saying that he “reached out to a bunch of people” at that time and had wanted to get “as many thoughts as possible” to make sure that he was hearing from people with a wide spectrum of political views.
“I don’t act on all of his comments,” he said of Akbar. “I listen, and I think that’s the most important thing. I was introduced to him by a friend, and you know, he’s got interesting points. I don’t obviously agree with most. But, I think the perspective is interesting.”
“All of my business partners are Jewish,” he wrote in a tweet directed at Feinberg. “For the Huffington Post to write that I’m anti-Semitic in an attempt to hurt Twitter for the thought crime of getting *feedback* from conservative thought leaders is knowingly false and reckless disregard for the truth.” (Akbar’s characterization of the article is not quite accurate: Feinberg noted that he has a “tendency to identify which members of the media are Jews” but did not write that he was an anti-Semite.)
The HuffPost interview ended on a lighter note. Feinberg asked Dorsey whether he had mailed some of his beard hair to rapper Azealia Banks so she could make him an amulet that would protect him from the Islamic State — a claim that she had originally made on Twitter (where else?) in 2016, and that was recently repeated in Vanity Fair by an anonymous source who once worked with Dorsey.
“No,” Dorsey replied.
“That’s disappointing,” Feinberg said.
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