Guest post by Marie Cochet

Influencer Law Clinic Series

1/20/20213 min read

On January 8th 2021, the social media platform Twitter decided to permanently suspend the realDonaldTrump account bringing about a new precedent regarding World Leaders and the “special” privileges they enjoy on social media. This very act goes against a statement made by the platform in 2018 regarding controversial tweets made by outgoing President Trump. In fact, Twitter Inc has stated that blocking or removing world leaders such as President Trump from their platform would be controversial and would restrain the access to important information. Information that individuals should be able to see and debate. This special privilege enjoyed by world leaders falls under the notion of public interest, which the platform considers to be attained if a tweet “directly contributes to understanding or discussion of a matter of public concern”. If this happens to be the case, then the platform will not delete or request the deletion of the tweet. In many cases, tweets from world leaders, no matter how controversial are considered to be of public interest as it allows individuals like you and I to respond to them and to hold them accountable.But as the 6th of January showed, those Twitter privileges can only go so far. Indeed, while Congress was convening to confirm President-elect Biden’s appointment, a Pro-Trump mob burst into the Capitol building in Washington DC which brutally halted the sessions. Due to the riots, President Trump proceeded to post a video furthering his claim that the election was stolen from him which led the Twitter platform to temporarily ban his account for “repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy”. This led Trump’s Twitter account to be locked by the platform for 12 hours which would later be permanently suspended on the 8th of January, “due to risk of further incitement of violence”.Indeed, the social media platform has established “Twitter Rules” by which every user must abide by. If an individual does violate a rule, the platform may lock the account until the owner deletes the tweet themselves or until the platform itself does so.

For world leaders however, this is somewhat different. While the Twitter Rules do apply to them, the extent thereof usually varies.While a tweet from a World Leader may be considered controversial, Twitter will most likely not request its deletion, but will proceed to assess the content of the post and decide whether it is of public interest. If it is indeed decided that it is in the public interest to retain the tweet, then Twitter may attach a notice to it. This notice will provide context on why this particular tweet is controversial or containing misleading information. The platform will also give the option to users to decide whether they wish to see the original tweet.The most suited example would once again be President Trump’s tweets following his presidential loss in late 2020. Following his loss, President Trump has raised the issue of mailing fraud and how he was the attested “winner” of the election. Most of those related tweets were flagged by the platform and bore a notice such as “Multiple sources called this election differently” or “This claim about election fraud is disputed”. In that regard, the Twitter platform was actively engaged to protect its users from potential misleading information directly given by the President of the United States.But what happens when they leave office? Do they still enjoy those privileges? Well, if we do not take into account the present suspension of President Trump’s account, no. On the 20th January 2021, President Trump would have lost his twitter special status. Therefore, he would no longer enjoy this privilege from the moment President Biden is sworn in. This statement is applicable for all outgoing World Leaders, demonstrating that Twitter’s special privileges are only enjoyable by sitting World Leaders and not former.