Donald Trump’s battle with Twitter intensified on Friday after the social media network accused the US president of “glorifying violence” following his apparent call for the military to use force against protesters in Minneapolis.
The tech group took its most aggressive action yet against Mr Trump, hiding one of his tweets behind a label explaining it had “violated the Twitter rules about glorifying violence”. The company said it was the first time it had ever used such a notice.
Mr Trump’s original tweet described protesters in Minneapolis as “thugs” who were dishonouring the memory of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American whose death in police custody this week has sparked several nights of violence. He added in his tweet: “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Me Trump later sought to damp down the controversy with a tweet denying he meant to encourage the use of military force.
“Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night,” he tweeted, 12 hours after his original post.
“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means.
“It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. ”
For years Twitter has been criticised for failing to censor Mr Trump’s more contentious tweets. But this week it reversed that policy by posting “fact-check” notices against some of his tweets.
As Mr Trump engaged in his online war against Twitter, protests spread to New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix, while the riots in Minneapolis remained on a knife-edge. A local police station was set on fire in the early hours of Friday, before three CNN journalists filming nearby were arrested while on air without an obvious explanation.
Omar Jimenez, a CNN correspondent, was later released with his producer and cameraman, but their arrests fuelled an already febrile atmosphere in the city, where protests broke out after Mr Floyd’s death. Video footage taken by a witness showed Floyd begging for his life while a white police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes.
Following days of escalating riots, the officer — who was fired by the police this week with three others — was taken into custody yesterday, although no charges have yet been announced.
Despite being censored for his apparent call for the military to use force against protesters, Mr Trump continued his rhetoric against those who have taken to the streets on Friday morning. “The National Guard has arrived on the scene,” he said in a later tweet that was not hidden or modified. “They are in Minneapolis and fully prepared.”
Twitter also opened another front in its fight against the president, joining an existing lawsuit against Trump administration rules requiring nearly all visa applicants to register their social media handles with the US government.
The moves prompted an angry response from Mr Trump, who signed an executive order on Thursday seeking to limit internet companies’ legal protections to publish content from others without the risk of getting sued for defamation.
Lawyers warned that Mr Trump’s gambit was unlikely to succeed, given those protections had been put in place by Congress and reinforced by decades of case law. But the president on Friday ratcheted up his rhetoric against the company, calling for the complete removal of those protections instead — a move that would require Congress to act, but could upend the way social media companies are run.