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Twitter employee on last day of job deactivated Trump's account, company says

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 11/3/2017 Rachel Siegel, Hayley Tsukayama
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President Trump's Twitter account was deactivated for 11 minutes Thursday night by a company employee on the last day on the job, Twitter said, raising serious questions about the security of a tool the president uses to set major policy agendas, aggressively go after his critics, and connect with his core voter base.

The company has suspended other high-profile accounts in the past for violating its terms and conditions. It has also faced questions over why it has not previously suspended President Trump’s Twitter account for violating its terms of service — a decision it defended by saying that Trump’s position means his messages meet a higher standard for “newsworthiness.”

But there has not been a case where an employee has acted alone to take down the account of a well-known person, seemingly on their own.

Such an event sparks deep and troubling questions about Twitter’s processes for suspending accounts, particularly at a time when the social network is under scrutiny for the role it played in spreading Russian propaganda.

Twitter initially posted a statement Thursday night saying Trump's “account was inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee.”

For those few minutes, visitors to Trump's account were simply met with the message, “Sorry, that page doesn't exist!”

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“The account was down for 11 minutes, and has since been restored,” the statement read. “We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again.”

But then two hours later, Twitter updated its statement saying that an investigation showed the deactivation “was done by a Twitter customer support employee who did this on the employee's last day.” Twitter said it would be conducting a full internal review.

Trump has used the account since March 2009. He has tweeted more than 36,000 times and has 41.7 million followers.

Trump has spoken publicly about his reliance on Twitter before. In an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network last month, Trump credited his use of social media as among the reasons he was elected.

“You have to keep people interested also,” he said. “You know, you have to keep people interested.”

Twitter also serves as among Trump’s main tools for deflecting criticisms and attacks. In the same interview, Trump said that “When somebody says something about me, I am able to go bing, bing, bing and I take care of it.”

Trump conceded that those close to him try to steer him away from social media. But he insists on tweeting — spelling errors included — as a weapon against “fake news.”

Trump's account may have been “inadvertently” deactivated Thursday, but Twitter has also had to defend its decision not to take down particular presidential tweets.

In a six-tweet thread in September, Trump issues what some took as a threat directed at North Korea.

“Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!” Trump wrote.

As The Washington Post has reported, Twitter prohibits tweets that include violent threats, which some argued was Trump's intention.

Twitter responded saying a number of factors go into account when evaluating controversial content, including its “newsworthiness” and whether it has “public interest.”

Those tweets confronting North Korea followed other instances where critics called for Trump's account to be more closely controlled, such as when he tweeted an edited video of himself beating somebody up, the victim's face replaced by a CNN logo.

Then there are the accounts that Twitter has chosen to suspend. Last month, the actress Rose McGowan took to Twitter to challenge Ben Affleck on his claim that he knew nothing of Harvey Weinstein's decades-long history of sexual assault and violence toward women.

“You lie,” McGowan wrote in one tweet.

But another tweet led to the temporarily suspension of her account. Despite initially declining to comment on the content of that specific tweet, Twitter later explained that McGowan's “account was temporarily locked because one of her Tweets included a private phone number, which violates our Terms of Service.”

On Thursday alone, Trump used his account to congratulate the Houston Astros for winning the World Series, call on Congress to “TERMINATE” the diversity visa lottery and announce the nomination of Jerome Powell as the next chair of the Federal Reserve.

Trump was back tweeting at 8:05 p.m., praising the day's “Great Tax Cut rollout.”

“The lobbyists are storming Capital Hill, but the Republicans will hold strong and do what is right for America!”

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