Some cheered and others raised concerns when President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, a mouthpiece for the U.S. presidency, mysteriously went dark for a few minutes this week.
“My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee,” Trump wrote from his restored account early Friday morning, making light of the brief Thursday evening outage that vexed many of his millions of followers. “I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact.”
Twitter on Thursday night blamed a customer support worker for deactivating Trump’s account on his or her last day on the job. The San Francisco-based social media company has promised a “full internal review” and said it is taking steps to prevent it from happening again. It has declined further explanation, raising questions not only about its own safeguards but on Trump’s heavy reliance on a single platform to broadcast his views.
While Twitter’s customer service employees have the ability to suspend or remove accounts, or delete individual tweets, over violations of service terms, they cannot post on someone else’s account. What’s less clear is if the company has tougher safeguards for taking action on higher-profile accounts, such as @realdonaldtrump — which Trump has been using since 2009 and now counts more than 41 million followers.
“It’s not surprising that even the brief shutdown of the president’s Twitter account has provoked debate,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, which filed a federal lawsuit last month challenging Trump’s practice of blocking Twitter users who criticize him or his policies.
Jaffer said Friday that “love it or hate it, the account has become an important source of news and information about the government” and Trump’s tweets “often shed light on official decisions and policies — and even when they don’t, they shed light on the temperament, character, and motives of the person most responsible for them.”
Twitter has struggled in recent months in how it enforces, and explains, its procedures for managing accounts that violate its policies designed to prevent hate, harassment and other abuse of the platform. That’s why when Trump’s account went dark Thursday, some observers assumed it was a formal rebuke. His critics celebrated.
“Dear Twitter employee who shut down Trump’s Twitter: You made America feel better for 11 minutes,” wrote U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who offered to buy the unidentified employee a Pizza Hut pizza.
Other critics suggested the lull was too brief, or speculated the disgruntled employee was an antagonist from the public sphere, from special counsel Robert Mueller to the rogue stormtrooper from a recent “Star Wars” movie.
Some linked the president’s use of Twitter as his official mouthpiece to a real-world debate about the 25th Amendment — which allows the vice president to take over if the commander in chief is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Trump supporters warned of censorship.
Just days earlier, the company had shut down the personal account of a close Trump ally, Roger Stone, after a profanity-laced tirade insulting journalists. Stone responded by calling the company the “totalitarian corporate thought police.”
“My feed was not for the faint-hearted,” Stone wrote in an online essay this week. “It was pungent, pugnacious and sometimes risque. Not as over the top (as) the hordes on Twitter who have threatened to kill me, my wife, my kids and my dogs but then Twitter doesn’t seem to care about banning them.”
AP writer: Matt O’Brien
AP Technology Writer Ryan Nakashima in Menlo Park, California, contributed to this report.