President Trump took to Twitter early Friday to condemn Minneapolis demonstrators as “THUGS,” threaten military intervention and predict local looting could lead to “shooting,” prompting the social-media company to take the unprecedented step of limiting the public’s ability to view and share his tweet.
The label Twitter appended — which the company also added later to a tweet from the White House — marks the second time in a week the tech giant has taken action in response to Trump’s controversial remarks. Trump and his allies again decried the move as censorship, promising to regulate the company a day after he signed an executive order that could open the door for the U.S. government to punish social-media sites for their handling of political speech online.
Trump fired off his early morning comment as protests over the death of George Floyd intensified in Minneapolis. Fires raged across the city Thursday night as demonstrators took to the streets because Floyd, who was black, died in police custody. The unrest has reverberated nationwide, including in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor, a black woman and aspiring nurse, was killed by police earlier this month.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. Friday, adding, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Critics immediately condemned Trump’s tweet, asserting that he was promoting violent retaliation against protesters, and Twitter took swift action. “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence,” read a gray box that now hides Trump’s tweet from public view unless a user clicks to see it. In doing so, Twitter also prevented other users from liking the president’s tweet or sharing it without appending comment.
“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,” said Trenton Kennedy, a spokesman for the company.
In an act of defiance, the White House hours later reposted a quotation of the president’s controversial comment about shootings on its account. That, too, received a label from Twitter indicating it broke company rules around glorifying violence.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The dispute immediately exacerbated tensions between the Silicon Valley company and Trump, who tweeted later Friday morning that he had been unfairly targeted. For years, the president has maintained Twitter and other tech companies exhibit bias against conservatives, systematically limiting their posts and quietly banning right-leaning users — a charge for which Trump has provided little evidence, and one that the industry strongly denies.
But their dispute took on greater significance on Tuesday, after Twitter bowed to years of public pressure and sought to fact check one of the presidents remarks for the first time. The company appended a link to news articles to two of Trump’s tweets about alleged election fraud, sparking fierce blowback among Trump and his allies.
Twitter in recent days has taken similar action against tweets from other sources across the political spectrum. But Trump has maintained it is a form of censorship, and his concerns led him Thursday to executive order targeting Section 230, a portion of federal law that shields Twitter and other tech firms from most liability for the content they allow or take down. Critics say the order threatens free expression on the web, running afoul of the Constitution. What is Section 230, the law at the center of Trump’s executive order aimed at social media? President Trump on May 28 signed an executive order seeking to change Section 230, a federal law that protects tech companies. (Jonathan Baran, James Pace-Cornsilk/The Washington Post)
“Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party,” Trump said in a later tweet. “They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States. Section 230 should be revoked by Congress. Until then, it will be regulated!”