Twitter placed a warning notice on a tweet by US President Donald Trump threatening “serious force” against protesters in the US capital, the second time it has used the label since it began challenging Trump’s tweets in May.
“There will never be an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President. If they try they will be met with serious force!” the president said in his tweet, which Twitter said violated its policy against abusive behaviour.
Trump posted the message after anti-racism protesters on Monday declared a “Black House Autonomous Zone” – referencing a Seattle area taken over by activists known as the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) or Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone – in front of St John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.
The threats came one day after police used pepper spray to disperse demonstrators who tried to topple a statue of a former president in a park next to the White House.
Protesters attempted to pull down the monument to Andrew Jackson, who was president from 1829 to 1837, depicted astride a rearing horse.
The statue was targeted for Jackson’s history as a slave owner and his brutal policies toward Native Americans.
Beginning in 1830 he forced the relocation of tens of thousands of native Americans from the southeast across the country on what was called the Trail of Tears.
Police forced the protesters away using batons and pepper spray, but only after the monument was heavily spray-painted with epithets and slogans.
Twitter said it hid Trump’s tweet behind its “public interest” notice because it included a threat of harm against an identifiable group. The label restricts distribution of tweets by public officials which violate Twitter’s rules, while leaving them online to allow for scrutiny.
A Twitter spokeswoman said teams within the company’s safety division informed Chief Executive Jack Dorsey of the decision before applying the notice.
Facebook, which has taken a more hands-off approach to speech by political leaders, left the same post untouched.
The warning escalated Twitter’s challenge to Trump, who has used the platform unimpeded for years to rally supporters and deride opponents.
After the company last month started applying labels to his messages, Trump announced plans to scrap or weaken a law that has protected internet companies to regulate social media platforms more aggressively.
Twitter’s first public interest notice against Trump also involved a threat of force against protesters, who have been demonstrating against racial injustice since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody.
Trump had used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to threaten deadly force against protesters in Minneapolis, where Floyd died.
Twitter said that message violated its rules against “glorifying violence”. It has also appended fact-checking and manipulated media labels to Trump’s tweets in the last month.
Trump left the city Tuesday morning on a trip to Arizona for a speech to supporters.
“We are looking at long term jail sentences” for those who damage federal monuments, he said. “These are not protesters by the way. These are anarchists and other things.”