President Donald Trump has long employed his preferred communication medium of choice, Twitter, to spew insults, spread lies, respond directly to the morning talk shows he watches incessantly, and pick unnecessary fights with other leaders. But on Sunday morning, he posted a tweet that could easily be interpreted as advocating violence against journalists — or even as a threat. Such behavior on the social media site could arguably classified as abusive and possibly cause for suspension. But the question of whether Twitter can suspend the president's account and whether it will is certainly being discussed — especially now, after some argue that he overtly threatened (or at least encouraged violence) against CNN.
Seemingly as the culmination of another battle in Trump's ongoing war with the news media — during which he railed against the hosts of the MSNBC show Morning Joe — Trump took aim once again at a favorite punching bag: CNN. Specifically, he posted a video of himself tackling and beating another man at a professional wrestling match — except CNN's logo was superimposed over the man's face. The only caption Trump offered in the tweet reads "FraudNewsCNN #FNN." Although it's impossible to discern his exact intention in posting such a video, it's abundantly clear that he has no problem depicting violence against journalists — and that some of his fervent followers would be more than happy to interpret the message as a call to action.
Romper has reached out to the White House press office for comment on the tweet and is awaiting a response.
This should be more than enough for the president to get booted off Twitter, at least temporarily. After all, the site's terms of service expressly state that users "may not make threats of violence or promote violence." Still, this is far form the first time that Trump's conduct on Twitter has seriously challenged the terms of service that serve as a basic roadmap of decorum for those engaged in the exchange of information and ideas — and he's never had to take a forced vacation from the site before.
Just on Thursday, for example, Trump took aim at Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, the Morning Joe hosts whose coverage of the president has been critical. In addition to claiming that the pair had aggressively sought his company at his Mar-a-Lago resort around New Year's (an account they later denied), he called Brzezinski "low I.Q. Crazy Mika" and wrote that she "was bleeding badly from a face-lift." The tweets earned the president widespread condemnation, but apparently did not meet the level of "harassment" that would warrant a suspension by Twitter standards.
At the time of the Morning Joe tweet, CNN itself quoted an unnamed former Twitter executive as saying that although the Twitter team surely "loathes" how Trump is using its service, they must consider that "if they suspend his account, they'll have to do this consistently with other harassment accounts, which is impossible."
In short, punishing Trump for his behavior on Twitter could very well be interpreted as partisan censorship — and for the president to lose his privileges would be a huge deal. Electronic Frontier Foundation free speech advocate Jillian York told The New York Times back in December that she was more concerned that it was the then president-elect using the medium to target a union leader, for example, than by what he was actually saying:
The problem is not necessarily in what he’s saying but that he's the president saying it. If that sort of speech were censored for everyone, I would have a big problem with it. It would be very much a violation of the spirit of freedom of expression to not allow me to critique a union leader or a journalist or a president.
This, of course, was before the president issued his latest tweet about CNN. Twitter now has another opportunity to evaluate the president's right to be on Twitter — and the safety of allowing him to do so. Because when the leader of the free world tweets something that treats the media and journalists as a threat to the country, which needs to be beaten down, some members of his fervent base may decide to do the job for him.