Twitter Places Warning on Trump Minneapolis Tweet, Saying It Glorified Violence

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ImagePresident Trump on Thursday signed an executive order meant to limit social media companies’ legal protections against liability claims.
President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order meant to limit social media companies’ legal protections against liability claims.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump raged against Twitter on Friday morning after the social media company added a warning label to a tweet he posted in the middle of the night implying that protesters in Minneapolis could be shot, escalating tensions between the president and his favorite online megaphone.

Amid the unrest in Minnesota, the president took time out to expand on his feud with Twitter, accusing it of targeting conservatives and him in particular and calling for legislation to revoke the company’s legal liability protections that are foundational to its business. The official White House account then reposted the tweet that had been flagged in a move meant to defy the company. Twitter responded by adding the same notice on the White House account.

The company said Mr. Trump’s original post violated its rules against glorifying violence, and it prevented users from viewing the tweet without reading a brief notice, the first time it has restricted one of the president’s messages in this way. Twitter also blocked users from liking or replying to Mr. Trump’s post, though they were still allowed to retweet it if they added a comment of their own.

But Twitter did not take the tweet down, saying it was in the public’s interest that the message remain accessible.

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In the tweet, posted early Friday morning, Mr. Trump called the protesters “thugs” and said he had told Minnesota’s governor that the military was “with him all the way.”

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the president wrote. “Thank you!”

Twitter said it had decided to restrict the tweet “based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”

The company’s decision came a day after Mr. Trump signed an executive order that seeks to limit the legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally shields social media companies from liability for the content posted on their platforms. The president had fulminated over Twitter’s decision earlier this week to add fact-checking labels for the first time to two of his tweets. In response, he accused Twitter of stifling speech and said that he would end the interference.

By Friday morning, he was lashing out again, using his Twitter feed to complain about Twitter.

“Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party,” Mr. Trump wrote. “They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States. Section 230 should be revoked by Congress. Until then, it will be regulated!” He posted a few other tweets citing similar views by his favorite Fox News hosts.

In its separate Twitter account, the White House added a jab directly at Jack Dorsey, the company’s chief executive: “The President did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it. @Jack and Twitter’s biased, bad-faith ‘fact-checkers’ have made it clear: Twitter is a publisher, not a platform.”

And Dan Scavino, the president’s deputy chief of staff, said Twitter should be targeting the protesters in Minneapolis. “Twitter is targeting the President of the United States 24/7, while turning their heads to protest organizers who are planning, plotting, and communicating their next moves daily on this very platform,” he wrote. “Twitter is full of shit — more and more people are beginning to get it.”

One of the president’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission, which he has asked to develop new regulations cracking down on social media companies, backed him up on Friday morning.

“Twitter has abandoned any attempt at a good faith application of its rules,” Brendan Carr, who has served on the F.C.C. since 2017 and previously served as its general counsel, wrote on Twitter. “No one should take comfort in that. Here it is punishing speakers based on whether it approves or disapproves of their politics.”

First Amendment scholars said Friday morning that Mr. Trump and his allies had it backward and that he was the one trying to stifle speech that clashes with his own views.

“Fundamentally this dispute is about whether Twitter has the right to disagree with, criticize, and respond to the president,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “Obviously, it does. It is remarkable and truly chilling that the president and his advisers seem to believe otherwise.”

Revoking Section 230 protections would expose Twitter and other online platforms to such expansive potential legal vulnerability that it would undermine the fundamentals of their businesses and perhaps make it untenable to continue in anything resembling the current system in which they provide online marketplaces of ideas where almost anything goes.

Paradoxically, it would also remove the very legal standard that has allowed Mr. Trump to use Twitter so effectively to communicate with his 80 million followers no matter how incendiary, false and even defamatory his messages may be. Without a liability shield, Twitter and online companies would be forced to police accounts like Mr. Trump’s even more closely to guard themselves against legal action.

Mr. Trump’s middle-of-the-night tweet about the Minneapolis protests echoed a comment by Walter E. Headley, the Miami police chief who attracted national attention in the late 1960s for using shotguns, dogs and a heavy-handed “stop-and-frisk” policy to fight crime in the city’s black neighborhoods.

Mr. Headley announced a “get tough” campaign in a December 1967 news conference that prompted anger among black leaders, The New York Times reported at the time.

“We haven’t had any serious problems with civil uprising and looting,” he said, “because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” Mr. Headley also said at that news conference. “They haven’t seen anything yet.”

Twitter has for years faced criticism over Mr. Trump’s posts on the platform, which he has used to issue threats, bully critics and spread falsehoods. The company has said repeatedly that the president did not violate its terms of service, however much he appeared to skirt the line.

The company has also said that blocking world leaders from the service or removing their tweets would hinder public debate around their words and actions. Twitter did announce last year, however, that it would in certain cases place warning labels on posts from political figures that broke its rules, the feature it used with Mr. Trump’s tweet about Minneapolis.

Twitter’s attitude appeared to shift as Mr. Trump posted several times in recent weeks spreading false conspiracy theories suggesting that Joe Scarborough, the MSNBC host, may have murdered Lori Klausutis, a member of his staff when he was a Republican congressman from Florida. Ms. Klausutis died from complications of an undiagnosed heart condition that caused her to pass out and hit her head, authorities concluded.

Mr. Scarborough, now one of Mr. Trump’s most outspoken critics, was 800 miles away at the time. Timothy Klausutis asked Twitter to take down the president’s false tweets about his wife, calling them deeply hurtful.

“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the president of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Mr. Klausutis wrote to Mr. Dorsey, the chief executive.

Twitter did not honor the request. Instead, it placed links and warning labels on other tweets Tuesday in which Mr. Trump said mail-in ballots would cause the November presidential election to be “rigged.” That led him to sign the executive order, which he framed as an effort to fight social platforms’ biases.

Facebook appears to be trying to forestall such criticism. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, told Fox News this week that he was uncomfortable with Facebook’s being “the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”

Mr. Trump’s message implying that the Minneapolis protesters could be shot was also posted on his official Facebook page, where it appears without any warning labels.

Frederike Kaltheuner, a tech policy fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, said that Twitter’s confrontation with Mr. Trump raised questions about how the platform would treat other world leaders. In March, the company deleted posts by the presidents of Brazil and Venezuela that contained unproven information about Covid-19 treatments.

“I doubt that Twitter has the resources to consistently apply rules to all heads of states that use their platform in all sorts of languages,” Ms. Kaltheuner said. “From all we know about the many inconsistent ways in which other policies are being enforced, my guess is that places that rarely make U.S. news will likely be overlooked.”

In Mr. Trump’s tweets about Minneapolis on Friday, he also criticized Mayor Jacob Frey’s response.

“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City,” the president wrote. Mr. Trump said Mr. Frey, a Democrat, must “get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.”

It was unclear if the president intended to send additional troops after Gov. Tim Walz activated the Minnesota National Guard to help restore order in the Twin Cities. Protests have raged there over the death on Monday of George Floyd, a black man who had been pinned down by a white police officer who pressed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

Mr. Trump had previously described the video of Mr. Floyd’s death as a “very shocking sight” and “a very very sad event,” saying he had asked the F.B.I.’s investigation to be expedited.

Mr. Frey did not know about Mr. Trump’s tweets until a reporter read them aloud during a news conference early on Friday. The mayor shook his head and then gave a fiery retort, slamming a podium for emphasis.

“Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your own actions,” he said. “Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis.”

“Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis,” he continued. “We are strong as hell. Is this a difficult time period? Yes. But you better be damn sure that we’re going to get through this.”

Adam Satariano contributed reporting.

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