Twitter policy chief: Now is right time to review world leader rule exceptions

Social network is asked why Donald Trump was banned from the platform while Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains.

Now is the right time to review whether Twitter should continue making exceptions for contentious posts by world leaders, a senior policy maker for the social network has said.

Twitter is currently re-evaluating its policies for politicians and government officials that allow some rule-breaking content to remain on the platform with warning labels.

The firm has long argued that this approach is in the public interest to enable people to scrutinise what world leaders say, but a public consultation was launched in March to determine whether such special cases should be permitted in future.

Katy Minshall, Twitter’s head of UK public policy, told the Lords Communications and Digital Committee looking into freedom of speech online that “now is the time to really look at what is the best approach to how we moderate world leaders”.

The social network was specifically asked why former US president Donald Trump was permanently banned from the platform following the Capitol Hill riots in January, while accounts belonging to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been allowed to remain.

Among the posts cited was one from May 2020 in which the supreme leader wrote: “The Zionist regime is a deadly, cancerous growth and a detriment to this region. It will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed.”

Ms Minshall said: “We acknowledge that there might be times a world leader tweets something that breaks our rules, but that there is a public interest in knowing that that world leader said that thing.

“We said in 2019 what we might do at those times is put a label in front of the tweet, saying this broke the rules we’re hiding it from you, so you have to opt in to see it and we’re going to restrict it algorithmically – so turn off likes, turn off the replies.

“In terms of the tweets that you’re referring to from Ayatollah Khamenei, we said that when it came to tweets that might be considered saber-rattling that were directed at other governments that may be focused on military issues or geopolitical issues, we would err on the side of leaving those tweets up.

“And that’s for two reasons. One, because of the public interest in knowing that that leader’s said that thing and two to give people the opportunity to hold that leader to account for saying what they said and being able to respond publicly and directly.

“Now two years on, it’s the right time to review whether that is the right approach and crucially we have a responsibility that it’s not just Twitter setting the rules of the road on such a fundamental issue, which is why we’ve been running a public consultation, inviting government officials, human rights activists, safety experts, around the world to tell us how they think we should moderate content from world leaders.”

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