What many might have hailed as Twitter setting an example by restricting engagement with President Donald Trump’s misleading and incredulous tweets about his election loss was, according to the company, an accident. Hold your fanfare. The company has since reversed course, fully restored engagement to Trump’s tweets, and ostensibly let the beginnings of its shiny new spine wither to gelatinous mush once more.
A company spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo that Twitter “inadvertently took action to limit engagements” on a tweet from the president Saturday, which prevented users from liking, retweeting, or replying to his post decrying the Supreme Court’s rejection of Texas’ lawsuit to overturn election results in four states.
“I WON THE ELECTION IN A LANDSLIDE,” he tweeted. “But remember, I only think in terms of legal votes, not all of the fake voters and fraud that miraculously floated in from everywhere! What a disgrace!”
In its statement, Twitter said it only took action on the above tweet. However, this was just one of several Trump tweets that some users, including Buzzfeed’s David Mack, noticed early Saturday morning were flagged as disputed claims and that trying to interact with them prompted a banner explaining that Twitter had “disabled most of the ways to engage with it” in order to “prevent a Tweet like this that otherwise breaks the Twitter Rules from reaching more people.” Some users reported being able to interact with the tweets after clicking through the warning label, according to the Verge, but others said they hit a dead end when they tried that. Twitter did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s inquiry about whether it took action against these other tweets as well.
In his rant, Trump called the Supreme Court’s ruling “a great and disgraceful miscarriage of justice” and claimed that “the people of the United States were cheated, and our Country disgraced.” He also chastised the governors of Georgia and Arizona for letting states he “won easily to be stolen” and called for voters to kick them out of office.
Twitter almost immediately backed down and restored engagement, though the “disputed” warning labels still remain on Trump’s tweets, which can reduce their visibility in search results and prevent them from being recommended by Twitter’s algorithm.
“This action has been reversed, and you can now engage with the Tweet, but in line with our Civic Integrity Policy it will continue to be labeled in order to give more context for anyone who might see the Tweet,” Twitter said.
This policy, which Twitter adopted ahead of the U.S. presidential election, prohibits users from posting or sharing content that interferes with civic processes, such as by misleading voters or spreading inaccurate claims regarding election results. The president’s tweets would appear to fall under the latter, but Twitter has long since proven that it’s willing to turn a blind eye when certain high-profile political figures flout its platform’s content guidelines.
Twitter has inarguably beefed up its content moderation policies in the past year to curb the spread of misinformation about the election and coronavirus pandemic, and has even restricted engagement on Trump’s tweets closer to election day. But lately, the platform seems content to quietly bide its time until it can hand over the reins of the official presidential Twitter account to President–elect Joe Biden in January and stop treating Trump’s personal account with impunity, though the latter may just be wishful thinking on my part.