Just days after President Trump’s tweets antagonized a foreign adversary over who would be first to start nuclear war, Twitter has addressed calls for the company to ban the chatty, often bellicose U.S. president.
In a vague post called “World Leaders on Twitter,” Twitter awkwardly sidestepped the controversy over whether Trump’s Twitter account violates its terms of service altogether, instead asserting that it doesn’t matter if a world leader violates its terms of service — they should have a home on the platform nonetheless. The post never names Trump.
There’s been a lot of discussion about political figures and world leaders on Twitter, and we want to share our stance.
Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation. Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society.
Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions.
We review Tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly. No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.
We are working to make Twitter the best place to see and freely discuss everything that matters. We believe that’s the best way to help our society make progress.
Whether Trump has in fact violated Twitter’s policies on user behavior is an open debate. Most users can’t back up their casual threats with a nuclear arsenal, so it’s safe to say that the Trump Twitter situation poses some uniquely weighty questions. Some even argue that Trump’s Twitter threats are an exercise in nuclear deterrence and can be categorized more as bizarrely articulated military policy than the kind of tweet that might violate Twitter’s rules banning “specific threats of violence.”
While plenty of Trump’s older tweets dabble in online harassment, it sounds like anything goes for world leaders so long as they’re elected. But lots of despots are “elected.” Would Rodrigo Duterte get the same pass were he to threaten state-sponsored brutality in specific terms? Would Kim Jong-un? According to this, it sounds like yes.
If you’re still using Twitter, you probably won’t be surprised by the fact that the company retains its right to impose its own rules selectively — after all, it’s been doing so for years. Calling for Twitter to take an ideological stand in order to prevent a social media-spurred international nuclear conflict is a nice thought, but considering how deeply committed tech companies are to the illusion of neutrality — which happens to dovetail nicely with the spineless art of self-preservation — it’s not a very realistic one.
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A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate has introduced a bill designed to protect the technical integrity of American elections as the nation moves toward midterm season. Introduced in the Senate, the bill known as the Secure Elections Act is sponsored by Republican Senators James Lankford, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham as well as Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Martin Heinrich.
“While there is no indication that the Russians were able to change vote totals, we know that Russian actors repeatedly tried to breach state election systems or public websites,” Senator Collins said in a statement accompanying the bill. “Our bipartisan legislation will strengthen the integrity of our election process by ensuring that local voting officials have the information and financial resources they need to secure their voting systems. ”
In similar statements, all of the Senators involved with the bill affirmed that until the U.S. further secures and standardizes its election systems, Russia will continue to pose an existential threat to American democracy. The bill would require federal agencies to promptly share election-related cyber threats with state and local governments, adjust security clearance for state officials that would need to have access to relevant information that might be classified, give states grants to modernize their election systems and create a set of cybersecurity guidelines to protect election systems, including voting machines.
“Russia attacked the very heart of our democracy when they interfered in the 2016 election,” Senator Harris said. “With the 2018 elections just around the corner, Russia will be back to interfere again.”
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Following an eleventh hour order instructing voting officials in Alabama to keep the digital ballots generated in Tuesday’s controversial Senate election, the state’s Supreme Court has issued a stay to block that decision.
The order to preserve the records was issued by the Montgomery County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon — less than 24 hours before voting was set to begin — and the stay that will effectively nullify that order was issued late Monday night.
“All counties employing digital ballot scanners in the Dec. 12, 2017 election are hereby ordered to set their voting machines to save all processed images in order to preserve all digital ballot images,” the Montgomery County order stated.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Alabama state election administrator Ed Packard are named as defendants in the suit, which was brought before the Montgomery County court by four Alabama voters. Initially filed on Thursday of last week, it cited the state-level election system hacking that the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states including Alabama of this September in arguing that the state should hold onto the digital record of votes for at least six months rather than destroy them.
As is often the case, state election practices are a bit confusing. As AL.com reports, the state is required to keep the paper ballots that are digitized to tabulate the vote. Priscilla Duncan, the attorney who represented the four Alabama voters named in the case, argued that while those paper ballots are kept for 22 months, “the paper ballots aren’t really what’s counted” and only an unlikely state-wide recount would consult the paper ballots.
According to AL.com, “at 4:32 p.m. Monday, attorneys for Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Ed Packard, the state administrator of elections, filed an “emergency motion to stay” that order, which the state Supreme Court granted minutes after Merrill and Packard’s motion was filed.”
The suit arguing that the records should be saved is not itself an indication of suspicion around the integrity of Alabama’s elections or evidence of any kind of foul play. Still, when it comes to the very uneven election security measures in U.S. elections, more records are never a bad thing.
A full hearing for the case is set for December 21, but the state has a green light to continue destroying its digital voting records until that time.
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