Without Naming Trump, Twitter Says It Won’t Block World Leaders

Posted January 5, 2018 8:17 p.m. EST

SAN FRANCISCO — For more than a year, Twitter has faced censure for allowing President Donald Trump to use its service to say whatever he wants. And for more than a year, the company has not addressed the criticism definitively.

On Friday, the company tackled the matter head on. Without mentioning Trump by name, Twitter said in a statement that he would remain on the social media service.

“Elected world leaders play a critical role” in global, public conversation “because of their outsized impact on our society,” Twitter said in the statement, which was posted to its site. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate.”

Twitter made the statement after a swell of outrage over Trump’s tweets this week, in which he boasted that he had a “nuclear button” that was “much bigger” and “more powerful” than North Korea’s, denounced his former strategist Stephen K. Bannon and derided the mainstream media.

Many critics said they believed Trump’s recent posts violated Twitter’s terms of service, which prohibit messages that threaten violence, death or physical harm. The indignation over the president’s latest tweets was so deep that some protesters projected signs onto Twitter’s headquarters building in San Francisco this week calling the service “Trump’s dog whistle.”

The company initially responded to the criticism this week by saying Trump had not violated its terms of service, before making its broader comments about world leaders Friday.

Controversy over Trump’s tweets, and over Twitter’s role in helping him spread his message, has been building all year. Trump has regularly used the service to criticize and attack other public figures and private citizens, which has sometimes led to online mobs hounding his targets.

The issue has been complicated for Twitter. The company has positioned its service as the world’s town square, where people can largely say whatever they want. And having prominent figures post contentious remarks can help Twitter’s business by attracting new users. At the same time, the company’s approach to banning users has been scattershot.

In recent months, Twitter has moved to address what it will and will not allow. It has been revamping its terms of service to clarify what actions are permitted on its platform, something the company has admitted it has fallen short of articulating before.

In the wake of these changes, Twitter has cracked down on groups affiliated with Nazis and white supremacists and has threatened to ban those who are affiliated with “hate groups” on and off the service.

Ultimately, Twitter said Friday, prohibiting world leaders from using its service would be ineffective, because it would “not silence” them but “would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.”

The company also sought to counter assertions that controversial figures like Trump were kept on the platform largely because they helped Twitter’s bottom line.

“No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions,” Twitter said.