Twitter puts warning label on Trump tweet for ‘abusive behavior’

Trump threatened 'serious force' against anyone attempting to establish autonomous zone in D.C.

Twitter escalated tensions with President Trump on Tuesday, adding a warning to one of his tweets and saying he violated the platform’s rules by glorifying violence.

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“We’ve placed a public interest notice on this Tweet for violating our policy against abusive behavior, specifically, the presence of a threat of harm against an identifiable group," Twitter Safety wrote.

The admonishment was placed above Trump’s tweet, which read: “There will never be an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President. If they try they will be met with serious force!”

The White House took issue with the alert.

"Let's be clear about what just happened," Trump's press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted. "Twitter labeled it 'abusive behavior' for the President of the United States to say that he will enforce the law. Twitter says it is 'abusive' to prevent rioters from forcibly seizing territory to set up a lawless zone in our capital. … We must have LAW AND ORDER!”

Demonstrators on Monday in D.C., before being cleared out, had blocked off an area that they called the "Black House Autonomous Zone," or "BHAZ." Protesters also had defaced and attempted to tear down a statue of Andrew Jackson near the White House, and the historic St. John's Episcopal Church, often called the Church of the Presidents, was vandalized with "BHAZ" spray-painted on its pillars.

For nearly a week, people opposing police brutality and racial injustice have turned a Seattle neighborhood into an "autonomous zone" for their protests, creating a carnival-like atmosphere with speakers and drum circles near a largely abandoned police station. While protesters say it shows how people can manage without police intervention, it’s drawn scorn from Trump, who has repeatedly threatened to “go in” to stop the “anarchists” he says have taken over the liberal city after officers withdrew to ease tensions.

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The zone stretches for several blocks in the densely packed Capitol Hill neighborhood just east of downtown Seattle and sprung up after police removed barricades near a police station and largely left the building. It came after officers used tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang devices last weekend to disperse demonstrators they said were assaulting them with projectiles.

Signs along the sidewalks proclaim, “You are entering free Capitol Hill” and “No cop co-op.” Throughout the day, speakers use microphones to discuss their demands. Artists have painted a blocklong “Black Lives Matter” mural on the street. Many businesses are still open. While there are makeshift barricades that block the area to vehicles, people walk in and out freely. And some officers have been back during the week to check on the police station.

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The latest Trump flap comes at a fraught moment for Twitter and social media more generally. Debate is heating up about when and how much these companies should police the content on their platforms as coronavirus misinformation swirls and the 2020 U.S. presidential election looms.

Twitter taking a harder line than Facebook on Trump’s posts likely has something to do with Twitter’s decision last year to stop taking political ads, said Melissa Ryan, CEO of consultancy group Card Strategies, which researches online disinformation and right-wing extremism.

She said the coronavirus pandemic has also led Twitter to inch toward stronger enforcement of its policies at the same time that Trump’s tweets have “amped up in terms of crazy and intensity and disinformation.”

“Twitter and Trump have been playing a game of chicken,” Ryan said to the AP. “It feels like they’ve both been moving toward this for a while.”

Twitter first outlined in early 2018 that it wouldn’t block world leaders from the platform or remove their controversial tweets. But it announced nearly a year ago that it could apply warning labels and obscure the tweets of world leaders if they used their accounts to threaten or abuse others. That followed complaints from Trump critics that the president has gotten a free pass from Twitter to post hateful messages and attack his enemies in ways they say could lead to violence.

Twitter further clarified its rules in October, saying it will enforce its policies against any user who makes clear and direct threats of violence against a person, but carving out an exception for government officials’ “foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues.”