Trump tests Twitter policies with Iran threats

President Trump is dramatically testing the limits of Twitter’s policies against violence as he threatens Iran using one of the most powerful megaphones in the world: his Twitter account.

Trump has spent days tweeting threats of violence and potential war crimes against Iran to his nearly 70 million followers amid an intensifying geopolitical conflict sparked by the administration’s decision to kill a top Iranian military official last week.

But Twitter says the president’s tweets do not violate any of its rules, raising novel and high-stakes questions around whether a platform that explicitly bans violent threats and incitement should take action against tweets threatening war from world leaders.

“When foreign leaders and Congress and his own administration learn about what’s going on in our country via the president’s Twitter account, we have run ourselves into a corner in foreign policy development that is dangerous,” said Dipayan Ghosh, a senior fellow with the Digital Platforms and Democracy Project at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center. “And I hope that we can get ourselves out of it.”

Twitter’s side: Twitter does maintain policies against explicit threats, inciting hatred against particular nationalities and using the platform to promote criminal activity. But it also says it does not want to censor any speech from top politicians, even when it is threatening or hateful.

The influential social media platform claims it is in the “public interest” to take a hands-off approach to speech by presidents and heads of state, often allowing politicians to flout Twitter rules that apply to everyday users.

There are some exceptions. In the face of public pressure over Trump’s often incendiary tweets last year, Twitter instituted a narrow exemption to its laissez-faire approach, vowing to label and potentially take action against the most egregious violations of its rules by top officials.

Twitter’s dilemma: In this instance, Twitter has opted to leave Trump’s tweets alone, finding that they are allowed under its rules. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Hill it has determined that none of Trump’s most controversial tweets this week violated Twitter policies, and the company pointed to an October blog post stating Twitter allows “foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues.”