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Twitter Will Now Flag Government Officials' Abusive Tweets

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Twitter is rolling out a new policy that cracks down on the platform’s definition of “serving the public conversation”—and accounts run by government officials and political figures are its first target.

Twitter Safety announced in a blog post on Thursday that they will begin placing disclaimers on tweets posted by officials that violate the platform’s community standards but remain on the website for the sake of the public interest.

Twitter has a history of allowing guideline-violating tweets to remain on the website for the health of the public conversation, but, as the statement reads, “it wasn’t clear when and how [we] made those determinations.” To remedy this, Twitter will now place warning labels providing additional clarity and the platform’s justification in such instances.

“Serving the public conversation includes providing the ability for anyone to talk about what matters to them; this can be especially important when engaging with government officials and political figures,” Twitter Safety writes in the blog post. “By nature of their positions these leaders have outsized influence and sometimes say things that could be considered controversial or invite debate and discussion. A critical function of our service is providing a place where people can openly and publicly respond to their leaders and hold them accountable.”

The rule applies to accounts run by or representing a government official, a figure running for public office or being considered for a government position. The account must be verified and have more than 100,000 followers.

The notice will take the form of a grayed box that obscures the tweet in question, much like the disclaimer that appears before you choose to view a tweet with sensitive content, and will give users the option to view the tweet and “Learn More” about the decision.

Determining whether a violating tweet is a matter of public concern is a “cross-functional team including Trust and Safety, Legal, Public Policy and Regional Teams,” who will evaluate if the tweet is necessary to a “broader discussion,” the immediacy of potential harm from the rule violation and if removal would prevent people from understanding an issue of public concern. The team’s decision-making will be outlined in the accompanying disclaimer.

If an abusive tweet is flagged with a disclaimer, it will feature less prominently on the website and will not appear in safe search, the explore and notifications tabs, and live events pages.

“Over time, public interest and how it’s defined on Twitter may change as we observe different types of behavior,” the post concludes. “We’ll continue to evaluate how our rules and enforcement actions can be clearer and keep working to make our decision-making easier to understand.”

The added function, which may or may not be a direct response to President Donald Trump’s incessant inflammatory and abusive behavior on Twitter (and the backlash against the platform’s unwillingness to suspend Trump’s account), will be interesting to watch as the 2020 election inches closer, as well as to examine in light of the White House’s forthcoming Social Media Summit on July 11, a meeting between “digital leaders” to discuss “the opportunities and challenges of today’s online environment,” per Reuters.

You can comb through Twitter’s announcement here.

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