Twitter plans to place a disclaimer on future tweets from world leaders that break its rules but which Twitter decides are in the “public interest,” the company said in a blog post Thursday.
This policy change could face its most prominent test in President Trump. Trump has repeatedly tested Twitter’s community standards with his regular tirades on the platform and some of the president’s tweets have run afoul of Twitter’s rules.
Twitter has in the past allowed tweets from Trump and other world leaders to remain online, even though they broke the company’s rules, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed to CNN Business, because it believes the tweets are in the public interest.
But putting a disclaimer on one of Trump’s tweets would almost certainly bring a firestorm of criticism down on Twitter’s head. Republicans in Washington, including Trump, often claim without real evidence that technology companies are biased against conservatives. Such a disclaimer on a Trump tweet, even if he had clearly violated Twitter’s rules, would provoke a new cycle of such complaints at a time when Washington is increasingly investigating Big Tech over concerns about antitrust and privacy.
“This is not about perceived bias but about providing more clarity if our rules have been broken,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business.
Asked by CNN Business, Twitter would not provide examples of tweets that it had previously kept up as being in the public interest despite rule violations.
The new feature will make clear when Twitter makes that call in the future.
“The Twitter Rules about abusive behavior apply to this Tweet,” the disclaimer will read. “However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain available.”
There are some exceptions, however. “[D]irect threats of violence or calls to commit violence against an individual” are “unlikely to be considered in the public interest,” Twitter said in the blog post.
Twitter said a “cross-functional” team, including representatives from its trust and safety, legal, and public policy teams will decide if a tweet is in the public interest.
The company provided a list of criteria that would inform this decision, including “Whether preserving a Tweet will allow others to hold the government official, candidate for public office, or appointee accountable for their statements.”
“When a Tweet has this notice placed on it, it will feature less prominently on Twitter,” the company said, adding that such tweets will not appear in Twitter’s algorithmically generated “Top Tweets,” its live event pages, and some other features.
The new feature will apply to verified government officials, political candidates and people who are being considered for a government position and who have more than 100,000 followers, Twitter said.
Twitter indicated in March that it was considering implementing the new policy.