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Why Twitter won't block Trump despite his nuclear threats

Twitter is facing renewed calls to take action against President Trump's account after he used it to threaten nuclear...

Posted: Jan 3, 2018 6:52 PM
Updated: Jan 3, 2018 6:52 PM

Twitter is facing renewed calls to take action against President Trump's account after he used it to threaten nuclear war.

On Tuesday night, Trump used Twitter to taunt North Korea about the nuclear capabilities of the U.S. in response to recent comments from its leader Kim Jong Un.

"North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the 'Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.'" Trump tweeted. "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

The comment quickly ignited a wave of frustration and questions about Twitter's responsibility to prevent any user, including its most powerful one, from using its platform to threaten nuclear annihilation.

"Does 'increasing the risk of nuclear war' violate the Twitter terms of service?" Ezra Klein, founder of Vox.com, tweeted on Tuesday. Others used hashtags like #deleteTrump and #suspendTrump to call for the company to remove the president's account from its platform.

One group projected the words "@Jack is complicit" at Twitter's headquarters Tuesday night, directed at CEO Jack Dorsey. At least one protest is scheduled for Wednesday outside Twitter's headquarters, with organizers saying either Trump or Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey "must go." So far, two dozen people are listed as planning to attend.

Related: Silicon Valley's 'gut-wrenching' year confronting its dark side

Dan Scavino, director of social media for the White House, responded to the concerns in a tweet Tuesday directed at a CNN reporter Brian Stelter in response to Stelter discussing on air whether Trump violated Twitter's terms of service.

"While you would love nothing more than to see a Twitter ToS Violation for handle: @realDonaldTrump, you and all of your liberal friends have NOTHING," Scavino tweeted.

Reps for Twitter did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, the company has repeatedly said it takes "newsworthiness" into account when weighing whether to take action against an account that might otherwise violate its terms of service.

And the president is, by default, newsworthy.

"Our policy does [account for] newsworthiness as well, and that was requested by our policy team," Dorsey said in one interview last April. "So we're not taking something down that people should be able to report on and actually show that this is what the source said."

Twitter used the same "newsworthiness" argument in September in response to calls to take down a Trump tweet that North Korea's foreign minister described as a declaration of war.

In November, Twitter officially updated its rules to make this newsworthiness exception clearer to the general public.

"We are making it clear that context - including... if the Tweet itself is newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest - is crucial when evaluating abusive behavior and determining appropriate enforcement actions," the company wrote in a blog post.

On its help page, Twitter now says: "There may be the rare occasion when we allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our Rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability."

Related: Twitter: Employee briefly shut down Trump's account on last day of work

Sure enough, multiple users said they reported Trump for abusive behavior on Tuesday after the nuclear button tweet only to receive prompt responses from Twitter that "there was no violation of the Twitter Rules."

While Twitter has so far remained silent this time, some former Twitter employees have spoken up about what they see as a flawed argument for Twitter to block comments made by the president of the United States.

"America's not made better by giving voice only to those you agree with or voted for," Adam Sharp, a former Twitter executive, tweeted on Wednesday.

Nu Wexler, a former Twitter spokesman now at Facebook, noted the futility of the effort. "A lot of people want to believe Trump would be a conventional president without Twitter," he tweeted. "He'd just call into Fox & Friends, Hannity, or Judge Jeanine, and say the same things."

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