SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter said on Tuesday that it would continue to be lenient with world leaders who appeared to violate its policies against violent speech because the company believed preserving those tweets served the public interest.
The announcement came as Twitter grapples with scrutiny for hosting President Trump’s increasingly virulent messages about the impeachment proceedings against him.
Under pressure from Democrats to take action against Mr. Trump’s account, Twitter said that it would take action against a world leader’s account only if it was used to threaten an individual, promote terrorism or self-harm, or post private information like a phone number.
“The accounts of world leaders are not above our policies entirely,” the company said in a blog post. “Presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules.”
The social media service has been under growing pressure since a whistle-blower complaint emerged in September that Mr. Trump sought to enlist a foreign power to tarnish a rival for his own political gain. Since then, the House has initiated a formal impeachment inquiry against the president, prompting Mr. Trump to tweet a string of messages that some have called threatening and bullying.
In one instance, the president said on Twitter that the unnamed whistle-blower might be a spy. He also quoted a Fox News guest who said impeachment could lead to chaos akin to a civil war and referred to the impeachment proceedings as a “coup” intended to strip Americans of their rights. He also called for the arrest of Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who is closely involved in the impeachment process, for treason.
The tweets have raised questions for Twitter. Jake Tapper, a CNN news anchor, said the tweets needed to come with a parental advisory. And Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is running to be the Democratic presidential nominee, called on Twitter this month to suspend Mr. Trump’s account. In a letter to Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, Ms. Harris said the president’s tweets were “blatant threats” that clearly violated Twitter’s policies.
“We need a civil society, not a civil war,” she wrote.
Twitter responded to Ms. Harris on Tuesday with a letter summarizing its blog post, a spokeswoman said. A spokesman for Ms. Harris’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Trump’s posts have regularly caused issues for Twitter. The president has long used the service as a megaphone to speak directly to the public, sometimes using threatening language, including when he insinuated last year that he might start a nuclear war against North Korea.
The San Francisco company has faced questions about why it allows Mr. Trump to keep a Twitter account at all because it does not allow bullying on its site. In 2017, a rogue Twitter worker deleted Mr. Trump’s account, which was restored in about 10 minutes.
In June, Twitter said it planned to roll out a feature to hide abusive tweets from world leaders behind warning labels, rather than scrubbing them from the platform because the messages are newsworthy. That would strike a balance between making information available to the public and enforcing its policies against violence and abuse, the company said. The feature has yet to be used against any world leader’s account, including Mr. Trump’s.
“There are certain cases where it may be in the public’s interest to have access to certain tweets, even if they would otherwise be in violation of our rules,” Twitter said at the time.
Mr. Trump has argued that Twitter and other social media services are biased against conservative figures like himself and are preventing their posts from reaching broad audiences. The Trump administration has threatened to take action against social media companies for censorship, and any action Twitter takes against Mr. Trump’s account is likely to be met with a backlash.
Follow Kate Conger on Twitter: @kateconger.
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