As reaction to President Trump’s positive coronavirus test floods social media, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok have a message to users: Wishing for the president to die is not allowed.
All three tech companies confirmed that such posts will be removed for violating each platform’s content policies.
As moderators scramble to pull down posts that express hope that Trump succumbs to the virus, wild speculation, conspiracy theories and other falsehoods about the president and first lady’s positive COVID-19 tests have been surging on the platforms, with each of them making dicey calls about what is permissible and what crosses a line.
On Trump death wishes, though, the companies fell in line.
A Facebook spokesperson said posts wishing Trump’s death — including comments on the president’s pages, and posts that tag him — will be taken down from the social network.
Twitter said tweets that “wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease” against anyone, including the president, will be pulled off the platform. Twitter says such “abusive” behavior can lead to an account being suspended.
A spokesperson for TikTok told NPR that cheering on Trump’s death would be in violation of the short-form video app’s community guidelines, saying content longing for Trump’s demise “would be a violation of our community guidelines and removed if we find that.”
A federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, allows tech companies to set their own rules for what is and is not allowed to be posted to their platforms.
UCLA professor Sarah Roberts, who studies online content moderation, said abusive behavior should be policed on the platforms, but she said enforcement has long been too lax for those who are not in the public spotlight.
“There’s been an outpouring of regular people saying, ‘I’ve been seeing death threats, rape threats, doxxing for years,’ and there’s been a complete lack of action,” Roberts said. “It’s much easier to go and find instances against a major public figure like Trump and erase it than it is with the everyday degradation against everyone else.”
Just spoke to @npr about what I’m now calling “content moderation-washing”: when platforms make a show of good citizenship by a. making an exceptional new policy b. enforced by the least empowered, most precarious workers that c. is relatively easy to implement.
— Sarah T. Roberts (@ubiquity75) October 3, 2020
Roberts said she is sympathetic to how difficult decisions about such content can be, since “the social media companies don’t have a playbook to go by,” adding that, “those deciding what content to remove are often some of the least empowered and lowest on the hierarchy workers who are in real-time dealing with the world’s bad behavior.”