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Trump’s Twitter endgame: Is it over?

By James Clayton

North America technology reporter


It’s hard to see that Donald Trump now has a future on Twitter.

The president says he hates Big Tech. Yet he has loved using Twitter.

He’s used it as a way for more than 10 years to bypass the media and speak directly to voters.

The 280 characters fits with his style of political engagement – broad brushstrokes rather than details.

And Twitter has undoubtedly benefited from President Trump too, the place to go to hear the latest musings from the most powerful person on the planet.

That decade-long symbiosis now appears to have ended.

On Wednesday, Twitter not only locked the President’s Twitter feed, but threw serious jeopardy on his long-term future on the platform.

In theory, the firm only suspended Mr Trump’s account for 12 hours, saying he could use it again provided that he deleted three tweets for violations around its Civic Integrity policy.

But this was the crucial part of Twitter’s statement: “Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account.”

Well, Mr Trump breaks these rules all the time.

Twitter’s Civic Integrity policy states that: “You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes.”

Mr Trump’s tweets about made-up allegations of mass voter fraud regularly do this.

Exception to the rules

Why hasn’t he been kicked off already?

image copyrightTwitter

image captionMr Trump or one of his associates appears to have deleted some of his most recent tweets

Well Twitter has very specific rules about world leaders.

“We recognise that sometimes it may be in the public interest to allow people to view tweets that would otherwise be taken down,” Twitter’s rules say.

“At present, we limit exceptions to one critical type of public-interest content – tweets from elected and government officials.”

The BBC understands there have been frequent debates at the highest level within Twitter about permanently banning Mr Trump.

But chief executive Jack Dorsey had felt it was in the public interest to keep the account active, albeit with warning messages, unless the President incited offline violence – which the company now believes to be the case.

“No one is turning a blind eye,” a senior source said,

In short, Mr Trump has been allowed to remain on Twitter – despite numerous breaches of its rules – because he is the president.

But as the power given to him by the American people slowly slips away, so does his Twitter immunity.

His words on social media, for years, helped to incite Wednesday’s storming of Capitol Hill.

As a soon-to-be private citizen, a decision to kick him off would be a lot easier to make.

Facebook has already suspended Mr Trump for 24 hours, and may well be thinking of a more long-term ban too.

All the big social media companies have made it clear that – as a private citizen – if you continually look to peddle conspiracy theories and promote extremism, you should expect to be kicked out. Mr Trump will be no exception.

Social media companies are also acutely aware that President-elect Joe Biden believes Big Tech hasn’t done enough to quell fake news and hate speech on their platforms.

image copyrightReuters

image captionRioters broke into Congress after a speech by Mr Trump on Wednesday

They are now desperate to show that they can, in fact, police their own platforms without the need for stringent legal reforms.

What better way to show you’re serious than to act on Mr Trump’s misinformation?

For all of those reasons, Mr Trump has two options when it comes to his future on Twitter.

He can repent, adhere to Twitter’s rules and obey them as a normal citizen.

Or he can get chucked off the platform.

Mr Trump’s never been a conformer. It’s helped him get to where he is.

But because of that, it’s hard to see how he and Twitter can coexist after his exit from the White House.

James Clayton is the BBC’s North America technology reporter based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @jamesclayton5.

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