Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported COVID-19 diagnosis, several people took to Twitter to wish for his speedy recovery, while others tweeted that they hope the disease kills him. Twitter has now threatened to take action against accounts that do so.
tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed. this does not automatically mean suspension. https://t.co/lQ8wWGL2y0 https://t.co/P2vGfUeUQf
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) October 2, 2020
The Twitter Comms tweet specifically says that “tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed.” The tweet cites a rule from the company’s ‘Abusive Behavior Policy,’ which you can read in full below:
Wishing or hoping serious harm on a person or group of people
We do not tolerate content that wishes, hopes or expresses a desire for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Hoping that someone dies as a result of a serious disease e.g., “I hope you get cancer and die.”
- Wishing for someone to fall victim to a serious accident e.g., “I wish that you would get run over by a car next time you run your mouth.”
- Saying that a group of individuals deserves serious physical injury e.g., “If this group of protesters don’t shut up, they deserve to be shot.”
However, the company also told Motherboard that it wouldn’t act on every tweet and that posting a tweet hoping for Trump’s death wouldn’t necessarily mean automatic suspension.
“We’re prioritizing the removal of content when it has a clear call to action that could potentially cause real-world harm,” Twitter told Motherboard.
Further, Twitter may put accounts into a ‘read only’ mode if they violate these rules.
Twitter’s approach differs from Facebook, which offers different rules for public figures:
“We distinguish between public figures and private individuals because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news or who have a large public audience. For public figures, we remove attacks that are severe as well as certain attacks where the public figure is directly tagged in the post or comment.”
Motherboard clarifies that this means Facebook users are free to post that they hope Trump dies as long as they don’t tag him in the post or “purposefully expose” him to “calls for death, serious disease, epidemic disease or disability.”
Several people have criticized Twitter for enforcing this rule unequally across its platform. For example, groups including women, people of colour, transgender people, people with disabilities and others regularly receive death threats, threats of bodily harm and other abusive tweets and messages that violate Twitter’s rules. Several responses to Twitter Comms shared specific examples of death threats that Twitter deemed did not violate its rules and did not remove.