Twitter has hidden one of Donald Trump’s tweets behind a warning that it “glorifies violence”, further escalating the social media company’s row with the US president.
The US president’s tweet, posted on Thursday night Washington time, warned people in Minneapolis protesting against the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer that he would send the military to intervene if there was “any difficulty”.
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote, apparently quoting the former Miami police chief Walter Headley, who in December 1967 promised violent reprisals to protests over stop-and-frisk tactics.
Two hours later, Twitter added a notice to the tweet: “This tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the tweet to remain accessible.”
The warning was accompanied by a link to its policies about public interest exceptions.
For people visiting Trump’s Twitter timeline, or seeing the tweet retweeted on their feed, the warning obscures the content unless they tap to view it.
Users who try to reply to the tweet are instead presented with a second notice that reads: “We try to prevent a tweet like this that otherwise breaks the Twitter rules from reaching more people, so we have disabled most of the ways to engage with it.” Existing replies no longer appear below it.
The tweet’s spread will also be limited by Twitter’s algorithms, according to the company’s policy documents.
Early on Friday morning, the Trump administration responded by sending an identical tweet from the official White House account, placing Trump’s words in quotation marks, which was duly hidden by Twitter in turn. Trump himself sent several angry tweets, accusing Twitter of “doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party”, and warning that “it will be regulated!”
The back and forth suggests neither Twitter nor Trump has any intention of backing down in their dispute, which erupted on Wednesday when the company applied a fact-checking label to the president’s tweets for the first time.
He had tweeted an accusation that California was using mail-in ballots to ensure a “rigged election” to which Twitter added a label reading: “get the facts about mail-in ballots”, which had a link to a “Twitter-curated” set of fact checks.
In response, the president signed an executive order that aims to remove Twitter’s protections against civil claims in cases where it acts as an “editor” rather than a publisher.
In a Twitter thread, the company explained its latest decision: “This tweet violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.
“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance.”
Twitter introduced its public interest exception in June 2019, after years of criticism for failing to consistently apply its rules to prominent public figures, particularly the president.
“There are certain cases where it may be in the public’s interest to have access to certain tweets,” the company said, “even if they would otherwise be in violation of our rules.”
Twitter said at the time it believed the response – hiding the tweet behind a warning and reducing its algorithmic distribution – struck “the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these tweets”.
The company has taken action against Trump’s tweets before, for copyright infringement. Twice the president used unlicensed music in campaign videos – in an advert featuring the theme to the film Dark Knight Rises, and in a meme video set to Nickelback’s song Photograph. In both cases, the posts were removed without complaint from the president.