Twitter has said that tweets wishing for Donald Trump’s death in the wake of the president’s diagnosis with Covid-19 violate its policies and could result in suspension.
As Trump made his way 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 hope he dies from the virus, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States under his leadership while he repeatedly downplayed the severity of the disease.
The social media platform confirmed in a tweet Friday that doing so violates Twitter’s “Abusive Behavior policy”, which prohibits tweets “wishing or hoping serious harm on a person or group of people”.
“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 company said in a tweet. A spokesman told the Guardian this policy has been in place since April and applies to all users, not just Trump.
The announcement came as a surprise to many Twitter users, especially people in marginalized communities who say they frequently experience abuse on the platform. Evan Greer said that as a trans woman and the primary spokesperson for the digital rights organization Fight For the Future, she receives death threats on a “weekly, sometimes daily basis”.
“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 from the company told Motherboard it is suspending some users but will not act on every tweet.
“We’re prioritizing the removal of content when it has a clear call to action that could potentially cause real-world harm,” the spokesperson told the publication. In light of the rule refresher, some people are finding creative ways around it, tweeting censored versions of the sentiment.
Facebook’s rules differ slightly: users can express that they wish death upon someone as long as that person is a public figure and they are not tagged in the post. In other words, it’s OK to post that you want Trump to die as long as you do not expose Trump himself to “calls for death, serious disease, epidemic disease, or disability”.