Analyzing the Evolution of Donald Trump’s Relationship with Twitter
June 4, 2021
Six thousand. That, 6,000, is approximately the number of insults former President Donald Trump made in five years on Twitter, according to the lower estimate of the New York Times. For any person, that is a lot of insults to make online. For a former President of the United States, it is totally unprecedented. Yet, despite years of calling people and organizations everything from “short and fat,” to “sadly weak,” it was not Trump’s personal attacks or hateful comments that ended in his virtual demise.
Instead, Trump was banned from Twitter on January 8, 2021 for violating Twitter’s “Glorification of Violence” policy, which is laid out in their terms of service. This came after the events of January 6, 2021, when rioters laid siege to the United States Capitol. Trump spurred on the rioters and has since been charged with Incitement of Insurrection in the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment proceedings.
Trump tweeted “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” on January 8.
Shortly thereafter, he sent a Tweet saying, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
It was those two posts that Twitter determined were not only in violation of Twitter’s rules, but also in violation to such an extent that Trump’s account with the handle @realdonaldtrump needed to be permanently suspended from the platform. The major decision made by Twitter at that point was one long in the making. Trump’s dicey relationship with the platform and its rules spanned years by that point, existing in the form of a saga full of controversy and complexity.
This saga would likely not have ever existed if not for one specific Twitter policy. When an account violates Twitter’s rules, it is typically suspended for some period of time, or permanently, depending on the circumstances. Exceptions to this standard exist, however, when Twitter believes it is in the public interest to allow someone to continue tweeting while violating site rules. This is according to the platform’s public-interest exception policy, which allows tweets by large accounts that represent governments or their officials to stay online. The goal of this policy is to allow people to see important information from and about their governments, regardless of Twitter rule violations.
Still, the platform’s help center states that, “the public interest exception does not mean that any eligible public official can Tweet whatever they want.” Ultimately, it is up to Twitter to decide what actions to take, if any, in response to rule violations. So, for years, Trump was allowed to make tweets that many argue violated rules against harassment, hate, and more. Then, Twitter made the decision that Trump had crossed a line by glorifying violence with his tweets on January 8.
In the days before Trump was permanently suspended, several less severe actions were taken. Those included placing disclaimers on Trump’s tweets, removing them entirely, and temporarily locking Trump’s account. Then, the big final action was taken after the President continued acting in ways Twitter saw as unacceptable on their platform.
In the weeks after the now-former President was disallowed from using Twitter, great debate has occurred over the company’s actions in controlling their platform. Whether Trump’s banning constituted necessary action or unacceptable censorship will be argued over for years to come. In the meantime, Trump will have to take part in this public discussion, and all others, somewhere other than his favorite bird app.