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Twitter’s suspension of Trump account raises serious questions

President Donald Trump's personal Twitter account was shut down on Thursday after a disgruntled Twitter employee had deactivated the account the company said. But does Twitter's explanation make sense?

Published: November 3, 2017, 8:11 am

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    Trump’s Twitter account is undoubtedly the most high-profile one on the platform, and in all likelihood it must have been monitored closely to adhere to the companies terms of service.

    Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account went down for 11 minutes due to “human error” according to the company. On further investigation, Twitter explained in a series of tweets that the president’s account was deactivated “by a Twitter customer support employee who did this on the employee’s last day”.

    But it remains a mystery as to how it was possible for a single Twitter employee to remove the account of the most powerful Twitter user. Two sources familiar with the company told recode.net that employees on Twitter’s Trust and Safety team have the ability to suspend or remove accounts, but a second source said that this was limited.

    Twitter had previously considered a safeguard in which it would require two employees to remove important, notable Twitter accounts, but the second source added that the safeguard had never been implemented.

    But yet another source claimed that Twitter’s top employees, including the CEO, could not automatically delete an account, because accounts were monitored via the company’s dashboards. According to this source, it would have required considerable technical skills to beat the system.

    A company spokesperson meanwhile, has declined to comment on internal safety and security operations for “security reasons”, but it might not be enough to quell fears over how the company treats its users in general.

    One of the most notable users has been actress Rose McGowan, who tweeted last year about the sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, whose behaviour had “been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist”. Twitter pulled the plug on her account, suggesting that the move was designed to protect Weinstein from her allegations.

    She posted a screenshot to Instagram showing that Twitter has suspended her account.

    Twitter’s CEO recently said “We’re putting significant effort into increasing our transparency as a company, and commit to meaningful and fast progress,” but quite the contrary was evident in McGowan’s case. The company has justified retaining offensive tweets or accounts in the past because they were deemed “newsworthy”.

    Tweeters have complained that Twitter has purposefully censored and “suppressed” certain content, particularly the leaked Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails, as well as hashtags critical of Hillary Clinton while “shadow-banning” pro-Donald Trump content.

    During a US Senate hearing, Twitter admitted that it had “buried” a significant amount of tweets related to hacked emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign chair Podesta in the months heading into the 2016 presidential campaign

    It his 48 percent of tweets using the #DNCLeak hashtag and 25 percent of tweets using #PodestaEmails, Twitter general counsel Sean Edgett has admitted in his written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    This week, Twitter, Facebook and Google testified at three Congressional hearings about their platforms being predominantly anti-Trump. The fact that a single company employee could remove the US President’s Twitter account, added fuel to the fire.

    During the account’s downtime, shortly before 4pm Pacific time (11pm GMT), anyone going to the @realDonaldTrump Twitter page could only see the message “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!”

    Before Twitter’s statement, some speculated that Trump himself may have deactivated his account or he may have been hacked due to his alleged poor security standards.

    Twitter suspends accounts if they engage in “abusive” behavior, if they’ve been hacked or if they are fake or promote spam. The San Francisco-based company has in the past suspended high-profile individuals including Milo Yiannopoulos, after he called out actress Leslie Jones, as well as the rapper Azealia Banks, who had made “racist” remark about singer Zayn Malik. But they have not touched many jihadist accounts or those of users calling for the assassination of Trump

    Twitter has also censored conservative website, The Drudge Report, and even Eric Trump’s tweets about the economy under his father.

    The president, who has more than 40 million followers on the platform, has expressed his like for the medium in the past. “It’s like owning your own newspaper – without the losses,” Trump noted in 2012.

    Ascending to the highest office in the United States Trump has steered US policy with his 140-character limit, despite his promise in November 2016 to be “very restrained, if I use it [Twitter] at all” once he became president.

    In the last year, he has hinted about changing nuclear weapons policy and praised Russian president Vladimir Putin as “very smart”.

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