Twitter is defending its decision not to remove a controversial tweet by President Trump on Saturday that targeted North Korea, in a six-tweet response to critics who argued that Trump violated the platform's rules.
Listening to North Korean officials speaking at the United Nations, Trump over the weekend tweeted what some interpreted as a threat directed toward the country.
Twitter's rules prohibit violent threats, some users pointed out, arguing that the Trump tweet fell into that category.
But Twitter said it would not remove the tweet or suspend Trump's account. In its response Monday, the social media company said that it takes a number of factors into account when faced with controversial user-generated content, including its “newsworthiness” and whether it has "public interest."
Twitter added that it stands by its commitment to "keeping people informed about what's happening in the world."
The thread marks Twitter's clearest explanation yet for its stance toward Trump, despite repeated calls from some users that the president's account be banned. Last month, Kal Penn, the actor and former aide to Barack Obama, urged Twitter to take stronger measures after Trump warned North Korea that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded.” On another occasion, Trump tweeted a video of himself beating somebody up outside of a wrestling ring, with the victim's face obscured by CNN's logo — giving the impression that Trump was physically assaulting the news network.
The debate that followed highlighted Trump's uncommon ability to weather gaffes that would sink most other government officials — such as William Bradford, an Energy Department official whose racially insensitive tweets led to his resignation last month, or Bill Kintner, a Nebraska state senator who in January stepped down over tweets that targeted female protesters. But the pressure on Twitter to do something about Trump's tweets — not to mention the company's decision to leave the tweets untouched — have also underscored the social media platform's own surprising role in shaping and enabling world events. Entire diplomatic exchanges are now playing out on Twitter; earlier this spring, official accounts belonging to Russia and Ukraine sparred verbally over a historical figure from the 11th century, eventually escalating to the point that the Ukrainian Twitter account deployed a GIF from "The Simpsons" in mockery.
So too might Twitter become a pivotal player in the U.S.-North Korean saga. Although North Korea has been known to describe almost any perceived slight as a "declaration of war," the country's heightened rhetoric in recent days comes as a direct response to Trump's usage of the social network. And unlike the official processes that generate the measured, ritualized statements forming the mainstay of diplomatic communications, Twitter provides an immediacy that, at times, has led Trump to jump the gun on sending information. On the same day that Trump took aim at North Korea, he tweeted that Iran had "just test-fired a Ballistic Missile."
But U.S. officials later said that information was incorrect, and Trump did not appear to have received any intelligence briefings on the matter. Iranian state television had on Friday aired footage of a missile test, but that test is said to have occurred much earlier in the year.