This is a man who loves to tweet.
This is a man who loves to tweet.
Photo by Marco Torres

World Leaders Really Shouldn't Have Personal Twitter Accounts

Depending on your echo chamber, for 11 minutes on November 2 the world was a beautiful place and nothing hurt as Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, went offline. Memes are still being spread about those 11 minutes of confusion and elation, when it seemed like the age of 100 percent pure strain Donald Trump had ended. But President Trump is not one to delete his own account, and he’s back to Trumping on Twitter whenever the mood strikes him.

His account went offline due to a Twitter contractor wanting to make his last day at the office something to remember. That still unnamed person is now something of a cult hero to the half of the country that can’t stand the President and his tweets. A year from now, you should fully expect people to be celebrating November 2 as one of those unofficial holidays, right along with National Pizza Day and Cat Appreciation Day.

All of this is understandable, of course. Even people who nominally support the President think his Twitter behavior is disappointing at best, and to have any sort of relief from the fear of what he might tweet next, no matter for how short, was something like a revelation if you were on Twitter at that moment. So the joy and laughter, that all makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how so many people are ignoring the fact that this incident is terrifying.

To be a part of the conversation, we give Twitter an incredible amount of control over our public faces. When you sign up to be a part of its version of the marketplace of ideas, you’re agreeing to play by its rules, which are largely arbitrary. Twitter has the power to silence anyone for any rhyme or reason, and it’s rare that a week goes by without some sort of outrage directed toward the company for what people feel is inconsistent moderation.

But at least in all the situations that people complain about, account suspensions and deletions happen through Twitter’s report function. Whether or not you agree with how the company resolves these incidents, they’re usually not the result of a person at the company just deciding out of the blue to punish an account. That one lone rogue person could pull the plug on an account is something we collectively knew in the back of our brains but never really thought about until now. According to a New York Times story, hundreds of employees had access to disable the President’s Twitter account. That’s bonkers, to put it mildly.

Imagine if something similar had happened to President Obama. The same people cheering what happened to Trump’s account would be asking for the head of the person who turned off Obama’s account so they could brand them as a racist and a traitor. That’s not the kind of stress a nation needs.

Like it or not, Twitter has become an important way of distributing information. During Hurricane Harvey, for instance, it was an invaluable tool for finding out what was going on with the storm, the rescues and the city’s response. That is a lot of power we’ve given a private company. When the next disaster comes along, we’re going to turn to social media. So what happens if in the chaos another rogue lone wolf starts turning off important channels of information?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with governments using social media to relay information to the public. However, when stocks rise and fall on what is said in the space of 140 characters, when a random person can make international news for shutting down an account and when we have to take at face value what a company we don’t trust says about what type of access they have to accounts, we should really reevaluate just what the social media strategy for our country should be.

You joke about a tweet starting a world war, but only because you know deep down it’s a thing that could actually happen.

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