Donald Trump could lose more than just the presidency this January. Twitter has confirmed that when Trump leaves office, he will no longer receive special treatment as a “newsworthy individual.”
Twitter’s policy around newsworthiness protects certain people – such as elected officials with more than 250,000 followers – from having their accounts suspended or banned for rule infractions that would otherwise lead to severe penalties.
That policy is what has led to the company muting, but not removing, at least 12 tweets from the US president over the past week that cast doubt on the democratic process. But, Twitter has confirmed, the policy does not apply to former elected officials. They have to follow the same rules as everyone else, and if a tweet breaks those rules, it gets removed. Were Trump to continue breaking Twitter’s rules regularly post-presidency, his account could be suspended.
“Twitter’s approach to world leaders, candidates and public officials is based on the principle that people should be able to choose to see what their leaders are saying with clear context,” a spokesman told the Guardian. “This means that we may apply warnings and labels, and limit engagement to certain Tweets. This policy framework applies to current world leaders and candidates for office, and not private citizens when they no longer hold these positions.”
That will present Trump with a choice once he leaves office: either tone down the rhetoric or face the prospect of his hugely influential following being taken away from him. Meanwhile, lawmakers and human rights groups have renewed calls to suspend the president’s account even before a possible transition of power in January.
On November 4, the Democratic representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia called on Twitter in a tweet to “suspend his account.”
“This is pure disinformation. Valid votes are being counted. This is America, not Russia,” he said in response to Trump tweets that included baseless suggestions of voter fraud.
David Cicilline, a Democrat and Rhode Island representative, also called for Twitter to suspend Trump’s account for “posting lies and misinformation at a breathtaking clip”. Cicilline is the chair of the House antitrust subcommittee and has targeted Twitter with pointed questioning in recent hearings.
On November 5, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the watchdog group Common Cause submitted a joint letter to Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO, requesting Trump’s account be temporarily suspended to prevent the spread of misinformation about the election.
“We fear that, in the absence of action by Twitter, the president may be successful in his goal of delegitimizing the integrity of our democratic processes for many, and not just Twitter users but other voters and members of the public, sowing uncertainty about the voting and elections process, and potentially inciting violence against civil servants or others,” the groups wrote.
A Twitter spokesperson said the company has received the letter and “intends to respond.”