Twitter said tweets wishing Donald Trump dead following the president’s diagnosis with Covid-19 violated its policies and could result in a suspension.
As Trump drove to Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment on Friday, many people on Twitter, including his opponent Joe Biden, wished him a speedy recovery. However, many others did the opposite, saying they hoped he would die from the virus, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States under his leadership as he repeatedly downplayed the severity of the disease.
The social media platform confirmed in a tweet on Friday this violates Twitter’s “abusive behavior policy”, which prohibits tweets “wishing or hoping to cause serious harm to any person or group of persons.”
“Tweets that wish or hope for death, grievous bodily harm or fatal illness against anyone are not allowed and will need to be deleted,” the company said in a tweet. A spokesperson told The Guardian that the policy had been in place since April and applied to all users, not just Trump.
The announcement surprised many Twitter users, especially people from marginalized communities who say they are frequently abused on the platform. Evan Greer said that as a transgender woman and the main spokesperson for digital rights organization Fight For the Future, she receives death threats “every week, sometimes daily”.
“The decision to suddenly enforce this policy underscores that centralizing content moderation decisions with big tech monopolies will always protect the powerful and silence the marginalized,” she said.
A spokesperson for the company told Motherboard it is suspending some users but will not act on every tweet.
“We prioritize removing content when it has a clear call to action that could potentially cause real-world damage,” the spokesperson told the publication. In light of the reminder of the rules, some people find creative ways around this problem, tweet censored versions of feeling.
Facebook’s rules differ slightly: users can express that they wish someone dead as long as that person is a public figure and that they are not tagged in the post. In other words, it’s okay to post that you want Trump to die as long as you don’t expose Trump himself to “death calls, serious illness, epidemic or disability.”