The president-elect of the United States is a notorious troll — a fact which his promise to ban Muslims from entering the country, threat to imprison and strip Americans of citizenship for exercising their First Amendment rights, and widespread insulting of people online all make clear. We now learn via Slate that the two technology platforms Donald Trump uses most prominently to spread his messages of hate and division, Twitter and Facebook, take a very different stance on how to respond to future instances of harassment by Trump. Namely, Twitter says it would consider suspending his account. Facebook, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg (mostly) denies contributed to Trump's victory by means of spreading fake news, not so much.
The publication reached out to Twitter directly and inquired whether top government officials could ever lose access to their accounts for violating the site's rules. “The Twitter Rules prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies,” a spokesperson responded. When asked if those standards apply to Trump, who The Guardian reports will soon be given the handle @POTUS, the spokesperson replied in the affirmative. “The Twitter Rules apply to all accounts, including verified accounts.”
Twitter has previously banned so-called "alt-right" a.k.a. white supremacist trolls. That the future president of this country could fall into that category reflects a sad state of affairs. And yet, according the company, Twitter Rules are Twitter Rules. If Trump violates them, his account could be sanctioned in some form or another.
Facebook, for its part, says it has a slightly more nuanced view of things. The company's Community Standards have frequently led to account suspensions — think drag queens losing access to their accounts because they are not using their "real names" — and the common layperson might mistakenly believe that this strict policing of account usage might apply to all Facebook users equally. Nope.
“When we review reports of content that may violate our policies, we take context into consideration,” a Facebook spokesperson told Slate. “That context can include the value of political discourse.”
For example, when Trump wrote that he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country, The Wall Street Journal reports that some Facebook employees advocating removing the post for violating the community standards on hate speech. Zuckerberg stepped in, allowing the post to remain, and later said views expressed by Trump are now part of the mainstream. "Our real goal is to reflect what our community wants," he explained in a tech conference interview. "That kind of content, we would have thought previously that would make a lot of people feel uncomfortable, and people wouldn't want that. But at the point where the person who's elected president of the United States is expressing that opinion and has 60 million people who are followers, then the question is, OK, I think that that is mainstream political discourse that I think we need to be pretty careful about saying that that's not a reasonable [inaudible]."
So, as Zuckerberg sees it Trump's speech can never violate community standards because anything he says — no matter how repugnant — is now "mainstream political discourse."
Leave it to Zuckerberg and Trump to make Twitter, a platform besieged with harassment, look like the thoughtful adult in the room.
It's going to be a long four years.