WASHINGTON • Twitter hid a tweet from President Donald Trump yesterday, accusing him of breaking its rules by “glorifying violence” in a message that said looters at protests in Minneapolis would be shot.
Twitter’s decision to step in, at a time of racially charged unrest in the United States, escalates a feud between Mr Trump and tech firms.
It came just hours after Mr Trump signed an executive order threatening social media firms with new regulations over free speech.
“…These THUGS are dishonouring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Mr Trump wrote in his tweet.
The protests were sparked by the death of Mr Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died during police arrest. He was seen on video gasping for breath while a white police officer knelt on his neck.
Mr Trump’s tweet can now be seen only after clicking on a notice which says: “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.”
A Twitter spokesman said chief executive Jack Dorsey had been informed of the decision to tag the tweet before the label was applied.
Twitter said it had taken action over the tweet “in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts”.
People will still “be able to retweet with comment, but will not be able to like, reply or retweet it”, it said.
The President posted his tweet after days of unrest in Minneapolis, where peaceful rallies gave way to a third night of arson, looting and vandalism as protesters vented their rage over the death.
Mr Trump has condemned the killing of Mr Floyd and promised justice. Four police officers involved have been fired.
Twitter’s move came after Mr Trump said he would introduce legislation that may scrap or weaken a law that protects Internet firms, including Twitter and Facebook.
The proposed legislation is part of an executive order Mr Trump signed on Thursday. The order calls on regulators to evaluate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that protects social media platforms from lawsuits over content that appears on them.
“Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they’re a neutral platform, which they’re not,” he said.
The President had attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets earlier this week about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting.
Twitter added a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.
Legal experts said Mr Trump’s attempt to curb what he says is social media censorship is a political gambit and will not change the legal obligations of social media companies.
They said it was unclear if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would embrace his view of Section 230. Even if it does, the agency’s regulations will have no binding legal effect on judges who actually have say over the law.
The order “is 95 per cent political theatre – rhetoric without legal foundation, and without legal impact”, said Dr Daphne Keller, an expert on Internet law at Stanford University.
Lawyer Marc Randazza said he agreed with Mr Trump’s censorship concerns, but added: “I think it’s much more of just a leadership statement, or a mission statement, than a blueprint for anything that’s really going to happen.”
Critics said the action represents a dangerous effort by the government to regulate online speech.
“Social media can be frustrating. But an executive order that would turn the FCC into the president’s speech police is not the answer,” said Ms Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the FCC, one of the agencies tasked with enforcing the order.
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE