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Twitter's Presidential Problem

By Kelson Howerton
On February 1, 2018
In today’s always-online world, social media has become a cornerstone of communication. From connecting with friends to staying up-to-date with world news, one of the largest social media platforms to take the world by storm with its short and streamlined approach is Twitter.
But just as with any platform that offers anonymity on the internet, Twitter is susceptible to those who wish to abuse the platform. As a result, Twitter has begun to crack down on those using the platform for harmful speech and abuse, including members of the increasingly popular alt-right movement, which is known for using social media to promulgate hate speech and harassment.
While the bulk of people being banned from Twitter on the daily are smaller “troll” accounts, these efforts to rid the platform of hate speech, harassment, and abuse has led to the banning of several high-profile individuals. Most notably, Twitter permanently banned former Brietbart News editor and popular far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos for violating rules “prohibiting participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals,” following a string of offensive tweets towards actress and comedian Leslie Jones. 
While Yiannopoulos’s tweets were unacceptable, the bulk of the harassment and abuse the “Ghostbusters” star received came from many of Yiannopoulos’s 300,000 followers. In banning Yiannopoulos, Twitter set an example of the consequences of sicking one’s followers on another user.  
Similarly, the social media service unverified the account of white supremacist and self-declared alt-right leader Richard Spencer in November of 2017 (confounding as it is that he had not been banned already). 
However, amongst all this harassment and hate speech, the individual to stir up the most controversy on the platform in the past three years is not a member of the alt-right, but the President of the United States, a man who is causing everyone at Twitter to collectively scratch their heads in befuddlement.
Even before his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump has been a fan of using the platform to mock and belittle his opponents while boasting of his accomplishments and pointing towards those who give him good press. While this behavior might have been acceptable for a celebrity outside of office, Trump’s continued toxic behavior on social media has raised many hairs.
From slamming the “fake news media” for its unfair coverage of him, to arguing with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto over the construction of Trump’s promised border wall, Trump’s frequent barrage of tweets has covered a wide array of issues plaguing his administration. While often comical and entertaining, Trump’s tweets tread on shakier ground, with typos, major inaccuracies, outright lies, and political threats, shifting the nature of his use of Twitter from problematic to dangerous. 
Quickly composed and unedited tweets might be the norm for disgruntled teenagers using the service, but this form of communication is highly problematic from the highest executive power in the world. No gatekeeper prevents him from making a major mistake in the hundreds of announcements he makes on the platform.
The infamous “covfefe” tweet aside, Trump was guilty of much worse than a typo when he retweeted unverified and clearly anti-Islamic videos from Jayda Fransen of the far-right group Britain First. After British Prime Minister Theresa May criticized him for doing so, Trump angrily responded to his closest foreign ally with a snarky tweet. However, he tweeted at the wrong Theresa May, directing his followers to harass an ordinary woman who had done nothing wrong, not unlike Milo Yiannopoulus and Leslie Jones.
This is not the only case in which Trump calls out or directly tweets at his opponents. From NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to former president Barack Obama, his direct tweets encourage his followers to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of those who anger him without directly violating Twitter’s rules on harassment and abuse.
Perhaps the scariest example of this was Trump’s tweet over the winter break antagonizing Kim Jong Un by boasting that the White House’s nuclear button was “much bigger & more powerful” than the North Korean Supreme Leader’s. While not his first time threatening Un, this post made light of the seriousness of nuclear war amid a tense political climate between the United States and East Asia.
While it is debatable whether his tweets violate Twitter’s terms of service, Trump’s use of Twitter is highly un-presidential. It raises the question should someone in an office such as his speak to the world in this way, free of filter. Whatever the case may be, Trump’s tweets have a serious influence over the nation and world, changing the Twitter landscape for everyone.
While the road ahead certainly is not easy for Twitter, the social media giant is anxiously awaiting, along with the rest of the world, the day Trump’s tweets result in serious real-world consequences that will demand the company’s immediate attention. Let’s just pray that day does not involve talk of nuclear war. 

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