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Twitter pledges to update public policies after Trump threatens North Korea

Twitter didn’t act to remove President Donald Trump’s tweet threatening North Korea in part because it is newsworthy, the company said today. Twitter says it will update its public guidance on what factors may lead to a tweet being pulled from the platform — or allowed to stay on it — to include a consideration of newsworthiness, as part of an effort to make the rules clearer to users.

“This has long been internal policy, and we’ll soon update our public-facing rules to reflect it,” the company’s public policy account wrote this afternoon. “We need to do better on this, and will.”

There’s been controversy since the 2016 primaries over whether Twitter should ban Trump’s account or hide some of his tweets, which often insult other individuals. Twitter hasn’t done anything, but the issue roiled up again today after North Korea said it saw the US President’s tweet as a “clear declaration of war.” For a platform that has long claimed its rules apply to all users, no matter who they are, a perceived declaration of war seemed like it might just cross the line.

Twitter’s answer, however, basically implies that Trump’s account will never be censored. Anything the President tweets is newsworthy, which means that none of his tweets can be pulled from the platform.

This kind of problem — minus the war threats — isn’t entirely unique to Twitter. Facebook has run into this issue from the other side: it was criticized last year for banning an iconic war photo because it otherwise violated the site’s terms of service. Facebook ultimately backtracked and decided to consider the “history and global importance” of the photo and suggested, to some extent, that consideration would extend to other posts.

Twitter’s newsworthiness standard makes plenty of sense, but it could present the platform with some issues. It’ll have to start deciding who else’s tweets qualify as newsworthy. It’ll also have to take this into consideration when a private individual’s tweet blows up — is that tweet suddenly newsworthy too? Twitter implies that it’s been factoring this in all along, but now that it’s planning to lay this out in a public-facing document, it’ll be easier for visitors to tell how consistently it’s being applied.

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