WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump took to Twitter early Friday to condemn Minneapolis demonstrators as “THUGS,” threaten military intervention and predict local looting could lead to “shooting,” prompting the social media company to take the unprecedented step of limiting the public’s ability to view and share his tweet.
The label Twitter appended — which the company also added later to a tweet from the White House — marks the second time in a week the tech giant has taken action in response to Trump’s controversial remarks. Trump and his allies again decried the move as censorship, promising to regulate the company a day after he signed an executive order that could open the door for the U.S. government to punish social media sites for their handling of political speech online.
Trump fired off his early morning comment as protests over the death of George Floyd intensified in Minneapolis.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump tweeted, adding, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Critics immediately condemned Trump’s tweet, asserting that he was promoting violent retaliation against protesters, and Twitter took swift action. “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence,” read a gray box that now hides Trump’s tweet from public view unless a user clicks to see it. In doing so, Twitter also prevented other users from liking the president’s tweet or sharing it without appending comment.
“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” said Trenton Kennedy, a spokesman for the company.
In an act of defiance, the White House hours later reposted a quotation of the president’s controversial comment about shootings on its account. That, too, received a label from Twitter indicating it broke company rules around glorifying violence.
Trump spent Friday walking back his midnight tweet, saying his comments had been misconstrued. “Frankly it means when there’s looting, people get shot and they die,” he said.
Trump, in his tweets, borrowed a phrase once used by former Miami Police Chief Walter Headley in a 1967 speech outlining his department’s efforts to “combat young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.” In the speech, Headley said his department had been successful “because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden also weighed in on Floyd’s death on Friday, lamenting the “open wound” of the nation’s systemic racism.
“The original sin of this country still stains our nation today,” Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in remarks broadcast from his home in Wilmington, Del. “It’s time for us to take a hard look at uncomfortable truths.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.