About public-interest exceptions on Twitter

Defining the public interest

Twitter generally actions Tweets that violate our rules. However, we recognize that sometimes it may be in the public interest to allow people to view Tweets that would otherwise be taken down. We consider content to be in the public interest if it directly contributes to understanding or discussion of a matter of public concern. 

At present, we limit exceptions to one critical type of public-interest content—Tweets from elected and government officials—given the significant public interest in knowing and being able to discuss their actions and statements.

As a result, in rare instances, we may choose to leave up a Tweet from an elected or government official that would otherwise be taken down. Instead we will place it behind a notice providing context about the rule violation that allows people to click through to see the Tweet. Placing a Tweet behind this notice also limits the ability to engage with the Tweet through likes, Retweets, or sharing on Twitter, and makes sure the Tweet isn't algorithmically recommended by Twitter. These actions are meant to limit the Tweet’s reach while maintaining the public’s ability to view and discuss it. Learn more about this notice and other enforcement actions. 

When is it in the public interest to preserve access to a Tweet?

We decide whether a Tweet that would otherwise violate the Twitter Rules is in the public interest using the following criteria and process:

Criteria for exceptions

  1. The Tweet violates one or more Twitter Rules;
  2. The Tweet was posted by a verified account;
  3. The account has more than 100,000 followers; and, 
  4. The account represents a current or potential member of a local, state, national, or supra-national governmental or legislative body:
    1. Current holders of an elected or appointed leadership position in a governmental or legislative body, OR
    2. Candidates or nominees for political office.

Process and teams involved

  1. Our global enforcement team will escalate any Tweet that meets the criteria defined above for secondary review by our Trust & Safety team. We will not evaluate Tweets for the public interest exception if they do not violate the Twitter Rules or otherwise fail to meet the criteria above.
  2. Our Trust & Safety team will evaluate the Tweet and prepare a recommendation on whether or not continued access to the Tweet is in the public interest.
  3. The recommendation will be shared with a cross-functional set of leaders across different internal teams with diverse and multidisciplinary backgrounds in government, human rights, journalism, news, technology, and law, as well as in-market teams with an understanding of the cultural context in which the Tweet was posted. 
  4. After informing these cross-functional stakeholders of the recommendation and feedback from the cross-functional team, senior leaders from Trust & Safety will make the final decision to remove the Tweet or apply the notice.

As with any enforcement action, our goal is consistent and transparent application of the notice, taking into account local context. While we do not consult externally on individual enforcement decisions, our local teams regularly engage with civil society and external stakeholders to incorporate local context into how we develop policy and enforcement guidance.

How we balance risk of harm vs. the public interest 

The public interest exception does not mean that any eligible public official can Tweet whatever they want, even if it violates the Twitter Rules. When deciding whether to remove a Tweet or place it behind a notice, we weigh the potential risk and severity of harm against the public-interest value of the Tweet. Where the risk of harm is higher and/or more severe, we are less likely to make an exception. We are more likely to apply the notice to a violative Tweet if:

  • The Tweet is directed at other government or elected officials or institutions as part of a public debate or call to protest;
  • There is a larger point to the Tweet that is relevant to the author or target’s public role;
  • The Tweet adds significant context to ongoing geopolitical events or issues; or
  • There is significant documentary or accountability value in preserving the content as a matter of public record.

We are more likely to remove the Tweet without applying the notice if:

  • The Tweet includes a declarative call to action that could harm a specific individual or group;
  • The Tweet shares information or engages in behavior that could directly interfere with an individual’s exercise of their fundamental rights.

We recognize the desire for these decisions to be clearcut yes/no binaries. Unfortunately, the reality is that they can't be. We have very rarely invoked the public-interest exception – less than five times in 2018. This is new territory for everyone – a service being used by world leaders to communicate directly to their constituents or other leaders, and at times, announce policy – and every decision we make sets a new precedent. We believe it is critical that we evaluate every case individually and in a way that accounts for context and history. Over time, as we evaluate more Tweets and make more of these decisions, we will be establishing a case history that makes these calls easier to make.

The table below provides a high-level overview of the thinking behind how we evaluate whether to remove or apply the notice across a range of the Twitter Rules. As with all our policies, we continue to respect local laws and balance other principles, including freedom of expression, when enforcing our rules. Even when content qualifies for the public-interest exception, we will continue to comply with applicable local laws, as provided by our country-withheld content policy.
 

When we're less likely to make exceptions

Terrorism / violent extremismYou may not threaten or promote terrorism or violent extremism. 

There is no place on Twitter for terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups and individuals who affiliate with and promote their illicit activities. Given the severe physical harm that can result from the activities of these groups, we do not anticipate cases where the public-interest exception would apply. 

 

ViolenceYou may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people. We also prohibit the glorification of violence. 

Content that threatens or glorifies violence can result in some of the most severe and immediate harms our rules are meant to address, and public-interest exceptions are therefore unlikely. We will especially err on the side of removal in cases where there is evidence the content may be leading to actual or likely offline harm. In very rare instances, we may decide that content is worthy of a public-interest exception if there is a more attenuated connection to actual violence, or if Twitter is the only source of the information.

 

Illegal or certain regulated goods or services: You may not use our service for any unlawful purpose or in furtherance of illegal activities. This includes selling, buying, or facilitating transactions in illegal goods or services, as well as certain types of regulated goods or services. 

In an effort to address the potential for offline harm, we do not allow the use of Twitter for any unlawful behavior or to further illegal activities. In rare instances, for example if there is significant documentary or accountability value in preserving the content as a matter of public record, we may choose to leave the content up behind the notice.

 

Suicide or self-harm: You may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm. 

Social contagion as a result of self-harming content is a severe and immediate harm that can occur on the service, and the public-interest exception is unlikely to override the potential for offline harm. We may sometimes leave content up behind the notice for cases of hyperbolic political statements, particularly if they target other public figures in the context of some relevant public debate. But we will err toward removal for content that targets private figures or where it is likely to cause offline harm.

 

Election integrity: You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections. This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress voter turnout or mislead people about when, where, or how to vote. 

Participation in free and fair elections is a fundamental human right — and Twitter views activity that interferes in someone’s ability to participate in an election, or which attempts to mislead about or deter them from participating, as a significant harm. There may be high public interest in the fact that an official has shared violative content, but, given the severity of the harm if viewers are misled or influenced by the content, it is very unlikely that such content would remain on the platform.

 

Private information: You may not publish or post other people's private information (such as home phone number and address) without their express authorization and permission. We also prohibit threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.

Sharing the personal information of an individual has the potential to generate severe and immediate harm both on and off Twitter, and public-interest exceptions are unlikely to outweigh this harm, given the need to protect victims. However, there may be high public interest in the fact that an official is threatening to share violative content, and we may make exceptions where the personal information itself is not present.
 

When we're more likely to make exceptions

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. This includes:

  • Wishing, hoping or calling for serious harm on a person or group of people

  • References to mass murder, violent events, or specific means of violence where protected groups have been the primary targets or victims

  • Inciting fear about a protected category

  • Repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone

  • Hateful imagery

  • Dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion

Twitter stands for the value of direct access to powerful figures, and maintaining a robust public record provides benefits to accountability. This value will be weighed against the likelihood and severity of actual or potential offline harm associated with a violation of these policies. For example, we may leave political statements that are part of a public debate up behind a notice. But we will err toward removal where there is evidence the content may be leading to actual or likely offline harm.

 

Abuse / harassment: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. This includes:

  • Wishing or hoping serious harm on a person or group of people

  • Unwanted sexual advances

  • Using aggressive insults with the purpose of harassing or intimidating others

  • Encouraging or calling for others to harass an individual or group of people

Twitter stands for the value of direct access to government and elected officials, and maintaining a robust public record provides benefits to accountability. This value will be weighed against the severity of the harm associated with the violation of these policies and the likelihood of offline harm. For example, insults may be present in tweets related to heated debate over matters of public policy. We are more likely to remove a tweet if the content targets a private individual without any relevant political context.

 

Sensitive mediaYou may not share any media that depicts excessively graphic or gruesome content related to death, violence or severe physical harm, or violent content that is shared for sadistic purposes. 

Twitter stands for the value of direct access to powerful figures, and maintaining a robust public record for an important historical event provides benefits to accountability. This value will be weighed against the likelihood and severity of the actual or potential harm associated with the violation of this policy.

Note: Given the acute harm that media involving child sexual exploitation, non-consensual nudity, and violent sexual assault can inflict on victims, we do not anticipate cases where the public interest exception would apply. Additionally, we will remove content, and not apply a notice, for infringement of copyrighted material.

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