The Twitter account @SuspendThePres, which tweets the exact same words as President Donald Trump, was set up to determine if Twitter’s algorithms would flag it as inappropriate.
It achieved its goal in less than three days, after posting Trump’s May 29 tweet describing protesters as “THUGS” and threatening violent intervention in Minneapolis.
Twitter hit the account with a 12-hour lock approximately 68 hours later and deleted its version of the president’s “THUGS” tweet. According to the account holder, who also tweets as @BizarreLazer, Twitter’s reasoning for the violation was “glorifying violence.”
Trump’s tweet was flagged for the same reason, but it remains online — albeit branded with a disclaimer indicating that “it may be in the public’s interest for the tweet to remain accessible.” There’s also a disclaimer on the official White House account’s version of the tweet, which was cross-posted from Trump’s account.
A Twitter spokesperson told HuffPost that Trump’s status as a world leader made his tweet of public interest despite violating the platform’s rules, and cited two blog posts from Twitter detailing its policies on the subject.
“This isn’t a Trump rule — we’ve applied this previously,” the spokesperson said, citing an example from April in which Brazilian politician Osmar Terra tweeted that quarantine measures would only increase cases of COVID-19.
This echoes the statement the @TwitterComms account supplied in May, which argued that “it is important that the public still be able to see the tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance.”
The @SuspendThePres account, which encourages followers to “report my rule violating tweets,” began tweeting on May 29. In private messages exchanged with HuffPost, the account holder clarified that they are a U.S. citizen and preferred to remain anonymous “to allow the experiment to stand for itself.” They said the impetus for the account was Trump’s executive order against social media companies.
“The order in question would strip media platforms big and small alike from liability protections, which in effect could shut down a significant portion of them,” they noted, adding, “If I ran a blog the first thing I’d do is cut off commenting ... It would in effect be large scale internet censorship.”
“I decided to run this experiment right after that executive order,” they said. “I wanted to see for myself if [Trump] was indeed violating the [terms of service]. What better way to test out the hypothesis than to see if they suspended me for the exact same language?”
@SuspendThePres’ account holder said the company’s response has “raised a whole host of additional questions,” including, “Will Twitter continue to find the tweets in violation? How many times? How long does it take in general to remove offending content from the platform? Will Twitter shutdown the experiment permanently? Will Twitter be more/less/equally lenient towards future presidents?”
Asked about Twitter’s decision to categorize Trump’s tweets as within the public interest, the account holder called the situation “a rock and a hard place for the platform and social media as a whole.”
“On one side you have to have community standards for the masses that need to be followed, and on the other side you have people of such significance using the same platform that the rules are bent for. It makes sense that Twitter wants the world to be aware of what’s going on... I definitely understand the pushback as well - the argument of ‘why should regular social media users be held to a higher standard than world leaders?’ It’s a pretty big conversation and I’m sure it will be discussed for years to come.”
In the meantime, @SuspendThePres will continue tweeting Trump’s words, and on Thursday, announced its intention to expand the experiment to another social network — the one owned by Mark Zuckerberg.
Jesselyn Cook contributed reporting.