Trump’s Free Pass on Twitter Could End January 20, 2021

Trump’s Free Pass on Twitter Could End January 20, 2021
Image: SAUL LOEB / Contributor, iStock by Getty Images

In the past three years and change, it seems as though the entire world has learned to revolve around our very special boy in chief, Donald Trump, in ways big and small. Hardly the most consequential of these: Twitter — by far his favourite platform for whipping his base into a frenzy — was forced to create an entirely new policy exemption just for those holding political office, who couldn’t possibly be expected to play by the rules that govern the rest of us. So Trump has been free to tweet just about anything with very little interference from Twitter. Blessedly, though, the company confirmed to Gizmodo today that Trump’s get-out-of-jail-free card is revoked as soon as he leaves office.

The policy in question came into existence on this day last year and carved out a grey area for content on the platform that technically broke Twitter’s rules, but happened to be posted by a big, powerful person with lots of followers. No, really, that’s part of the equation: In order for the “world leaders” exemption to apply, the account in question has to be verified, have over 100,000 followers, and belong to a current holder of — or nominated candidate for — a “local, state, national, or supra-national governmental or legislative body.”

Instead of removing content that crosses the line, if it’s posted by someone who ticks all those boxes, Twitter merely slaps a version of the following warning label on it:

This tweet violated the Twitter Rules about [specific rule]. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible. Learn more

Fill in the blank with the rule in question, and you’ve got a convenient way of allowing forbidden content on your site and washing your hands of the thing.

Trump has, naturally, been a frequent beneficiary of this rule. To wit he’s had tweets remain up that glorified violence toward protesters, threatened harm to protesters, encouraged electioneering, further encouraged electioneering, and promoted disinformation about the covid-19 pandemic.

While a Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo that company policies “are not enforced retroactively” — meaning it won’t go back and censor old Trump tweets once he’s out of office — they did confirm that the public interest and world leaders exemptions “only apply to elected officials when they are an actual incumbent in office.” [Note: Both emphases theirs.]

So on Jan. 20 — ideally of 2021, or, god help us, 2025 — Donald Trump ceases to be a world leader where Twitter is concerned, and Twitter finally takes off the kid gloves.