What you need to know

  • Twitter has posted an article clarifying its approach to dealing with world leaders on Twitter.
  • Says it recognises that "this is largely new ground and unprecedented".
  • Says that world leaders "are not above" policies, but will err on the side of leaving content up if it serves the public interest.

Twitter has taken to its blog to try and clarify its approach to world leaders on Twitter, in particular how it assesses Tweets from those world leaders, and how it makes the decision to remove (or not) content from Twitter.

The blog post is offered in the context of the ongoing "meaningful public conversation" about Tweets from world leaders, ground which Twitter describes as "largely new" and "unprecedented':

We understand the desire for our decisions to be "yes/no" binaries, but it's not that simple. The actions we take and policies we develop will set precedent around online speech and we owe it to the people we serve to be deliberate and considered in what we do. Our mission is to provide a forum that enables people to be informed and to engage their leaders directly. We also have a responsibility to the people who use Twitter to better explain why we make the decisions we make, which we will do here.

The article goes on to outline the approach Twitter takes to the subject, starting with the view that Twitter is a place where people can partake in public conversation and get informed about the world around them. Twitter also states that Tweets from world leaders are assessed against the same set of Twitter Rules that everyone else has to abide by, these rules are designed to promote free and safe public conversation. With regards to interpreting tweets from world leaders:

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We focus on the language of reported Tweets and do not attempt to determine all potential interpretations of the content or its intent.

Presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules.

However, if a Tweet from a world leader does violate the Twitter Rules but there is a clear public interest value to keeping the Tweet on the service, we may place it behind a notice that provides context about the violation and allows people to click through should they wish to see the content. We announced this in June.

Twitter goes on to state that accounts of world leaders "are not above our policies entirely," and it goes on to provide a list of violations that might result in action being taken regardless of who posted it. These are:

Promotion of terrorism;

Clear and direct threats of violence against an individual (context matters: as noted above, direct interactions with fellow public figures and/or commentary on political and foreign policy issues would likely not result in enforcement);

Posting private information, such as a home address or non-public personal phone number;

Posting or sharing intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent;

Engaging in behaviors relating to child sexual exploitation; and

Encouraging or promoting self-harm.

According to the report, in any other cases involving a world leader, Twitter will err on the side of leaving the content up if there is "a clear public interest to do so." It does however highlight that this is an ever-evolving situation:

With critical elections and shifting political dynamics around the world, we recognize that we're operating in an increasingly complex and polarized political culture. These are constantly evolving challenges and we'll keep our policies and approach under advisement, particularly as we learn more about the relationship between Tweets from world leaders and the potential for offline harm.

Our goal is to enforce our rules judiciously and impartially. In doing so, we aim to provide direct insight into our enforcement decision-making, to serve public conversation, and protect the public's right to hear from their leaders and to hold them to account.

So there you have it, world leaders on Twitter are judged against the same set of rules as everyone else on Twitter. The only difference it seems is that Twitter clearly believes there are scenarios where even if a world leader oversteps Twitter's boundaries, it is in the public interest to leave a tweet public so that leaders can be held accountable. Only in very serious scenarios would Twitter take action against a world leader, as it would any other account using the service.