President Trump has coronavirus, a disease that has killed more than 205,000 people in the United States on his watch. He is widely reviled by roughly half the country on account of his often negligent and sometimes cruel policies on the pandemic, social justice, and immigration, among others. Some unknowable percentage of those people want him to die from the disease, and more than a handful of them have already explicitly said they hope the President dies from coronavirus on Twitter.
Twitter told Motherboard that users are not allowed to openly hope for Trump’s death on the platform and that tweets that do so “will have to be removed” and that they may have their accounts put into a “read only” mode. Twitter referred to an “abusive behavior” rule that’s been on the books since April.
“Content that wishes, hopes or expresses a desire for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against an individual is against our rules,” Twitter said in a statement. This rule will apparently apply to people who wish death on Trump, who is the single most powerful person in the world.
As Motherboard has previously reported, Facebook has different rules for speech that is focused on celebrities and public figures. Facebook says it "distinguish[es] between public figures and private individuals because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news or who have a large public audience. For public figures, we remove attacks that are severe as well as certain attacks where the public figure is directly tagged in the post or comment." What this means is that it's OK to post on Facebook that you hope Trump dies, so long as you do not tag him in the post or "purposefully expose" him to "calls for death, serious disease, epidemic disease, or disability."
Twitter makes no such distinction between public and private figures.
When Motherboard asked how tightly Twitter will enforce this policy with regard to Trump, it said that it “won’t take enforcement action on every Tweet. We’re prioritizing the removal of content when it has a clear call to action that could potentially cause real-world harm.” It is not clear whether Twitter believes that hoping for the death of the president can lead him to actually die, or where the line is.
Additional reporting by David Gilbert.
Update: This article has been updated to clarify that people who tweet that they hope the president dies may have to remove their tweets and may have their account put into a “read only” mode but that they will not necessarily have their accounts automatically suspended.