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An ex-president Trump fair game for social media rules

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Nov 09, 2020 - 01:59 AM

SAN FRANCISCO — When US President Donald Trump departs the White House, he also leaves behind any immunity he might have from social media rules.

Efforts by Twitter and Facebook to balance letting political leaders speak to the people unfettered with enforcing rules about hateful and misleading posts have afforded Trump leeway not given to regular users.

But any special treatment that Trump has enjoyed ends with his presidency.

“Twitter’s approach to world leaders, candidates and public officials is based on the principle that people should be able to choose to see what their leaders are saying with clear context,” a spokesman for Trump’s go-to messaging platform told AFP.

“This policy framework applies to current world leaders and candidates for office, and not private citizens when they no longer hold these positions.”

So, Trump posts masked by warnings or amended with labels could qualify to be deleted instead.

“I assume that the argument around not completely removing content from world leaders is because what they say is important for us to know,” said Casey Fiesler, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“I don’t know that I would describe that as leniency. But it’s certainly a different way that their policy is applied.”

Twitter says accounts of world leaders are not completely above its removal policies, particularly when it comes to promoting terrorism, threats of violence or publicly posting personal information about people such as where they live.

The fact that Trump has relentlessly attempted to undermine the integrity of the election and falsely claim victory is important for US citizens to know, academics reason, while acknowledging that his words in themselves represent a threat to democracy.

“You have to weigh those two things,” Fiesler said. “Arguably, Twitter could have removed his account long ago.”

Persona non grata? 

Facebook has been under pressure to clamp down on political misinformation since failing to stop foreign influence campaigns in the 2016 US election — while at the same time remaining an open platform for debate.

The social network took a different path from Twitter, which early this year decided to label comments by Trump as misleading and in another case to limit the reach of the president’s comments for violating the platform’s policy on promoting violence.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has consistently resisted setting limits on Trump rhetoric, saying that “the best way to hold politicians accountable is through voting, and I believe we should trust voters to make judgments for themselves.”

Facebook tightened its rules for the fiercely contentious election, banning last-minute political ads and misleading information about voting, and adding information labels to premature claims of victory.

Given the vitriol common in Trump posts, once he loses his protected status in social media as president he could wind up persona non grata, reasoned University of California, Berkeley, information school professor Hany Farid.

Twitter said Friday it had banned an account created by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon that called for the execution of federal officials.

The @WarRoomPandemic account was “permanently suspended for violating the Twitter Rules, specifically our policy on the glorification of violence,” a statement from the social media platform said.

Before the account was blocked, it featured a call by Bannon to remove the heads of FBI director Christopher Wray and top government pandemic expert Anthony Fauci.

If an ex-president Trump calls for violence in Facebook or Twitter posts, he too should be banned for life, Farid argued,

“Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and all the other platforms have to take that seriously,” Farid said.

“For citizen Trump, they could follow the rules.”

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