For the second time this week, Twitter has applied its content moderation policies to the president's tweets, this time putting a Trump tweet one click deep behind a warning about glorifying violence.
President Trump was up at 1 a.m. tweeting about the unfolding protests and rioting in Minneapolis, saying, "I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis." Trump threatened to call in the National Guard — something that Governor Tim Walz had already done by the time he started tweeting — and then invoked a phrase linked to police brutality in Miami in the 1960s: "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."
Twitter put the second of Trump's two tweets about the situation behind the warning, saying, "This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."
This is hardly the first time that President Trump has glorified violence on Twitter, however this is the first time that the company has chosen to call him on it — and only hours after Trump signed a likely-to-be-unenforceable executive order to punish Twitter for posting a fact-checking note beside one of his tweets earlier this week.
The protests in Minneapolis have been ongoing for three consecutive nights, following the Monday death of George Floyd at the hands of city police. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after having an officer's knee on his neck for eight minutes while he was face down on the ground. He was being placed under arrest for trying to pay for something in a store with a counterfeit bill. The incident was caught on cellphone video, and much like the killing of Eric Garner in New York in 2014, Floyd could be heard saying, "I can't breathe."
Trump, who almost certainly did not know the original context of the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," was fully in character Thursday night/Friday morning as he took to Twitter to join in a chorus of white grievance aimed at his aggrieved Caucasian base. He also used the word THUGS in capital letters to drive home the fact that he's talking about non-white people.
The phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” was used by Walter Headley, the Miami police chief in 1967. At the time, Mr. Headley warned that young black men who he called “hoodlums” had “taken advantage of the civil rights campaign,” and added, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”
And she goes on to point out that this baldfaced appeal to racist sentiments in a moment of racial conflict is of a piece with Trump's refusal to condemn neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville three years ago, instead saying there were “very fine people” on “both sides” of the conflict after a young woman was killed by a car aimed at anti-Nazi protesters.
Trump's latest grievance, and the one he spent Friday morning tweeting about, is now against Twitter, and what he sees as unfair treatment of Republicans and conservatives like him — though lets face it, this is mostly about him and his Twitter bully pulpit being threatened.
"Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party," Trump said in one of several tweets on the matter — one of which was simply "CHINA!" in all caps, with no context. Another said, "REVOKE 230!" repeating what he'd said in a previous tweet about how Congress should revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields technology platforms from liability for the content posted by users. As the Times pointed out Thursday, if Section 230 were ever revoked, it would, ironically, lead Twitter to crack down more on libelous or incendiary content, for fear of legal prosecution, meaning more Trump tweets getting labeled or removed.
Meanwhile, Trump had only one follow-up tweet about the situation in Minneapolis, saying today that the National Guard is "fully prepared" and in place to handle the rioting. And he added, oddly, "George Floyd will not have died in vain."