Trump will relish an ‘us versus them’ free speech fight – but Twitter is right to finally take a stand against his incendiary words

The president's supporters will think the same way they always have, but if this move can make someone deliberate about his words and assess them critically – all the better


Donald Trump always enjoys a fight that will fire up his supporter base – and Twitter has just handed him one.

In response to protests in Minneapolis, Trump tweeted that he would send in the National Guard, and added, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts". Twitter hid the second tweet, claiming it "glorifies violence".

For almost the entirety of Trump's time in the White House there have been calls for social media companies to moderate the language used by the president. If another user had tweeted content similar to Trump, they would have likely faced the prospect of having their account suspended, at the very least.

The events in Minneapolis, which have seen consecutive nights of protests following the death of a black man called George Floyd in police custody, were always going to be something the president would pick up on, as his supporters generally favour a hardline stance on policing. The fact that those tragic events have now interweaved with what he sees as the silencing of right-wing voices by social media and Google will only help him with his "us against the establishment" act.

However, Trump is the establishment and is a man with incredible reach via his various platforms. Twitter is right to take a stand, in fact it should have done so years earlier. Some will want them to go further in reducing Trump's platform, but flagging content like they have will at least give the reader pause to think.

The president's supporters will think the same way they always have, but if Twitter's move can make someone deliberate about Trump's words and assess them critically, then that is better than what we had before.

Twitter obviously has their motives, indeed taking a stand where their rival, Facebook, hasn't (so far) will help them. Trump's suggestions – and executive orders – will put pressure on the company and it has clearly decided now is the right time to take a stand, if a small one. Better late than never.

The warning states that "Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible".
The "historical context" of what they have removed is a reference to the looting and shooting phrase used by Miami Police Chief Walter Headley in the 1960s, in reference to his aggressive policing policies in black neighbourhoods. It's a consistent rhetoric from Trump and also a trap into which journalists are keen to see him fall.

This latest move kicks the hornets' nest over the issue of the free speech vs the harm from online comments. Exactly the type of battle Trump loves. He will place it in the political context as he knows it will help him consolidate his base ahead of the presidential election in November – and is a distraction from the pressure he is under over the handling of the coronavirus crisis in the US.

"Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party. They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States," the president tweeted on Friday morning.

He will relish this battle. But the fact is Trump needs to be taught a lesson about the power of his words.