For four years, the U.S. president’s Twitter feed has served as his worldwide megaphone, a daily litany inciting division and testing the limits of the platform’s misinformation policies. But Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud might soon vanish, or at least appear less frequently, after he’s exited the White House: As soon as Joe Biden is sworn in as U.S. president on January 21, Trump will no longer enjoy certain exemptions that Twitter affords to world leaders — exemptions that have allowed the president to cast doubt on the legitimacy of our democratic institutions.
This was recently confirmed by a Twitter spokesperson to Forbes, who said the president could in fact be banned from the platform, once he becomes a private citizen, for repeatedly violating the company’s rules.
So can you look forward to a Twitter without the second most-followed user on the website? It remains increasingly possible as the inauguration draws closer.
What is Twitter’s word leader exemption?
Though Big Tech platforms have made repeated promises to stamp out misinformation, hate speech and incendiary rhetoric, the issue has met blowback from prominent conservatives such as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, who’s joined a growing list of public figures alleging censorship. That issue has grown thornier with the president’s Twitter feed, which has often creeped into territory that might have drawn a policy violation if it had come from elsewhere.
According to Twitter guidelines outlined last year, all Twitter users are subject to the same rules, unless a tweet has what the company calls a “clear public interest value,” despite potentially disseminating something harmful.
The company expands on the rationale behind its World Leaders policy:
If a Tweet from a world leader does violate the Twitter Rules but there is a clear public interest value to keeping the Tweet on the service, we may place it behind a notice that provides context about the violation and allows people to click through should they wish to see the content. We announced this in June.
As the company mentions in its rules, the implementation of warning labels on certain problematic tweets is new. For the majority of Trump’s administration, he was allowed to tweet with relative impunity, unconstrained by the social media giant’s policies. The implementation of these notices finally came after years of outrage and incredulousness from journalists and regular users alike. To no one’s surprise, warning labels almost instantly sparked outrage on the other side of the political divide once put into effect.
What happens on January 21?
On January 21, at 4 a.m. AEDT, Donald Trump becomes a private citizen. That means he’s no longer a world leader, and therefore no longer subject to the various exemptions that allow world leader’s tweets to remain online, owing to their public interest value.
A Twitter spokesperson told Forbes that the company has no “special rules” for the soon-to-be-former president. So how might the president’s eventual banning play out? The magazine explained earlier this month:
A first-time offence typically results in Twitter blocking the user from using their account until they delete the tweet, while a second violation can result in a temporary freeze on the user’s account, and so forth (the president’s namesake, Donald Trump Jr., was restricted from using the platform for 12 hours after he tweeted out a false claim about hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19 in July.)
Keep in mind that Twitter has no specific precedent governing how many times a user can break the rules before they’re ultimately banned. But if Trump continues to poke the hornet’s nest without the comfort of the company’s World Leader policy, he might have to settle for Parler.