January 29, 2016

Why Does Twitter Refuse to Shut Down Donald Trump?

A reporter asked me a provocative question some days ago: "Why do you think Twitter hasn't enforced their own Terms of Service rules when it comes to Donald Trump?"

I didn't have an immediate answer. I told him I'd look into this, think about it, and get back to him.

So I've been researching this in considerable depth.

I found that any reasonable analysis of the situation suggests that Trump should have been closed down on Twitter long ago.

To be sure, I don't regularly follow Trump on Twitter, just as I don't frequent websites devoted to close-up photos of diarrhea.

Certainly I do hear about some of his tweets from time to time, when they leak onto other social media or when the press tries to get more clicks from displaying them on cable news and such (ah, perhaps our first clue to the mystery!).

Exploring an archive of even his relatively recent Twitter activity -- which instantly reminded me somehow of a vile bully named Sheldon I knew back in elementary school -- it was startling what a hateful, deceitful spew of apparent lies and direct attacks that Trump has been leveraging Twitter to deliver -- with his enormous following on Twitter, presumably to Twitter's financial benefit as well (another clue!).

It's quite a Twitter stream Trump has going there -- if you're into gawking at gruesome highway wrecks, that is. Onslaughts against individuals. Similar attacks against organizations, even against entire races. White supremacist propaganda. On and on and on. Try retrospectively reading Donald's tweets without feeling the need to vomit -- virtually impossible if you're a socialized human being and not someone raised by hyenas.

Yet as long as a Tweet isn't actually illegal (irrespective of Trump's creepy, sexualized comments about his own daughter) Twitter is not actually obligated to take any action against anyone.

But Twitter is certainly obligated to apply the rules that they do have in an evenhanded manner. And looking back over the collection I have of complaints from Twitter users who feel Twitter terminated their accounts inappropriately -- even for a single comment that was interpreted to be disrespectful in some way -- it would appear that Twitter is coddling Trump in a unique manner indeed.

A reading of the Twitter content Terms of Service suggests at least three categories relating to hate speech and harassment that should apply to Trump (but apparently haven't been applied), but seem to have been rigorously enforced against other, ordinary users on a hair-trigger basis.

Are there special exceptions in the Twitter ToS for obnoxious billionaires running for the presidency? Or for tweets where the individuals, organizations, or others targeted by those tweets did not formally complain to Twitter?

No matter how deeply you study those Terms of Service, you won't find such exceptions.

But wait! Perhaps there's an exception if you're only retweeting other users' material? After all, Trump's most popular excuse for his most offensive tweets seems to be that he was "only retweeting someone else."

Nope, I can't find an exception for that, either. You retweet someone else's tweet, you own that content just as if it was your tweet originally.

The conclusion appears inescapable. Twitter apparently has voluntarily chosen to "look the other way" while Donald Trump spews forth a trolling stream of hate and other abuses that would cause any average Twitter user to be terminated in a heartbeat.

There's always room to argue the propriety or desirability of any given social media content terms of service -- or the policy precepts through which they are applied.

It is also utterly clear that if such rules are not applied to everyone with the same vigor, particularly when there's an appearance of profiting by making exceptions for particular individuals, the moral authority on which those rules are presumably based is decimated, pointless, and becomes a mere fiction.

In other words, we thought that Twitter was far more ethical than Donald Trump.

Apparently, that assumption is in error.

I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Posted by Lauren at January 29, 2016 09:54 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
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