When Should Twitter Ban A World Leader?

Senior Contributor
08.11.17 14 Comments

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Twitter can be maddeningly opaque about who stays on the service, who gets booted for good, and why. Martin Shkreli and Tila Tequila have been thrown off the service, but others have been allowed back on, or kept, despite far worse behavior. And many of those misbehaving entities are governments or world leaders. It leaves many wondering: Just what does it take to throw a politician off Twitter? The answer may lie less with what the politician does, and what Twitter itself is capable of doing.

There’s the 800-thread-count pompadour in the room, of course, but while a certain sitting president may be the focus of Twitter concern lately, he’s far from the first public official or world leader to misbehave on Twitter. Diplomats have ridiculous arguments replete with Simpsons GIFs. Well before 2016 elections, Chuck Grassley was the most widely mocked politician on the platform, for his bizarre statements and occasional misbehavior. A UK MP who lost his seat publicly compared his opponent to syphilis. And this isn’t even taking into account how the service is flagrantly used for propaganda; North Korea tweets like anybody else. They act, in other words, much like the rest of us when we snap on Twitter, but these people have militaries at their command and fingers placed on buttons. Should Twitter users who can start wars be held to higher standards?

At the most basic level, in theory Twitter can boot anybody, from peon to president, any time it wants, as part of the site’s terms of service and overall community rules. Legally speaking, Twitter is a private platform, not a government one. There’s no human right to Twitter, specifically, and its terms of service aren’t laws or even written in stone. If Twitter decides, for any reason, to kick you to the digital curb, that’s the end of it and all anybody can do is rage at the gates for a while.

That said, the site’s rules are, at best, poorly enforced. It’s not hard to find a politician who’s managed to fall afoul of at least one of those rules. So why isn’t Twitter applying the boot?

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