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Twitter just pissed off the most powerful man in Washington who isn’t President Donald Trump.
The platform’s content moderation police temporarily froze out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign account on Wednesday, for threatening violence against…Mitch McConnell.
The latest hard-to-parse policy enforcement comes as Republicans have launched a full-out assault on Silicon Valley for supposed anti-conservative bias, with rumors swirling of a White House executive order on the issue. Seizing on tech platforms’ opaque content moderation efforts, McConnell’s allies are now misinterpreting a hashtag that’s popular among his critics — #MassacreMitch — as evidence of a double standard.
The temporary lockout came after the Senate majority leader-affiliated account, @team_mitch, shared a video of progressive activists protesting outside the Republican’s Louisville home. After a man in the video references a McConnell voodoo doll, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported, another protester responded: "Just stab the motherfucker in the heart."
McConnell’s campaign shared the video in an apparent attempt to showcase left-wing protesters running amok. But Twitter didn’t see it that way.
A company spokesperson told VICE News that the tweet violated its policy against sharing threats or glorification of violence. “The user was temporarily locked out of their account for a Tweet that violated our violent threats policy, specifically threats involving physical safety,” they added.
That policy also allows “some forms of violent speech where it’s clear that there is no abusive or violent intent.” That would seem to be the case here: McConnell’s staff was exposing a threat made against him.
But the Twitter spox also told VICE News that surrounding context doesn’t matter, declining to comment further on the record. Under Twitter’s policies, it’s still unclear where the line is between promoting threats of violence and publicly reporting them. As with other Silicon Valley companies, its attempts to curb abuse and other policy violations are often difficult to follow.
McConnell allies — including Trump campaign officials and right-wing media — predictably pounced on the lockout as yet more evidence of Big Tech's supposed censorship of conservatives. “This is a problem with the speech police in America today," McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden said in a statement circulated to news outlets.
“Twitter will allow the words of ‘Massacre Mitch’ to trend nationally on their platform, but locks our account for posting actual threats against us,” Golden added.
The hashtag #MassacreMitch has become popular among McConnell’s critics following mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. But even a cursory glance at #MassacreMitch tweets suggests that the hashtag implies McConnell has blood on his hands for opposing gun control. They’re not literal threats against the senator’s life.
The McConnell campaign did not respond to VICE News’ questions about what appears to be a bad-faith interpretation of the context surrounding the hashtag. A Twitter spokesperson also did not comment on the record on why its content moderators decided to give #MassacreMitch a pass.
Cover: In this Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., addresses the audience gathered at the Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky. A spokesman for Mitch McConnell says the Senate majority leader tripped outside his home in Kentucky and suffered a shoulder fracture. McConnell fell on his outdoor patio, but has been treated and released after getting medical attention. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)