Those who publicly express on Twitter the hope that anyone may die or come to serious harm could be suspended from the site, the social network announced, shortly after news broke that the US president Donald Trump has Covid-19.
The announcement on Friday came as Mr Trump was taken to hospital “as a precaution”, where he is expected to have “a few days of treatment”.
The disease has killed over 213,000 people in the USA, and after news broke of the president’s infection, some people explicitly said on Twitter that they hope the disease causes his death.
The announcement of the new policy from the Twitter Communications team has prompted fierce accusations of double standards in its application of rules, as the site is well known for being riddled with aggressive abuse.
Many people have questioned why the president’s health has been the issue which has prompted the company to make its new rules clear, which have reportedly been in place since April.
It also comes after Mr Trump himself retweeted a video in late May of a right-wing activist claiming that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat”, and which is still up.
Responding to a Vice article headlined “Twitter says you cannot tweet that you hope Trump dies from Covid”, the social network’s communications team said: “Tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed. This does not automatically mean suspension.”
The message was met with incredulity by people who have been victims of relentless abuse. Many have responded to the message saying they have had “daily” death threats on the platform for several years.
“So… you mean to tell us you could’ve done this the whole time?” Tweeted New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who last year said she often starts her day by reading the death threats sent to her.
Ilhan Omar, a black congresswoman who has also spoken about the daily death threats she receives on the platform, responded with a gif which read: “EXCUSE ME?”
Former UK children’s laureate Malorie Blackman said: “Weeks of death threats and serious threats against my family when I was Children’s Laureate resulted in Twitter doing bugger all about it. *side-eyes in Black woman*.”
A 2018 investigation by Amnesty International into the scale of abuse which US and UK journalists and politicians face on Twitter concluded that the platform “is endemic with racism, misogyny and homophobia”.
“1.1 million abusive or problematic tweets were sent to women in 2017, the investigation found – an average of one every 30 seconds.”
The study found black women were disproportionately targeted, being 84 per cent more likely than white women to be mentioned in “abusive or problematic tweets”.
Back in 2013, the US Secret Service investigated about 10 death threats a day against Barack Obama, and there were as many as 30,000 such threats a day during the first year of his presidency, according to The New York Times.
A spokesperson for Twitter told The Independent: “At Twitter, our singular goal is to improve the health of the public conversation, including ensuring the safety of people who use our service.
“Abuse and harassment have no place on Twitter and we have policies in place – which apply to everyone, everywhere – that address abuse and harassment and hateful conduct.
“If we identify accounts that violate these rules, we will take enforcement action.”
Late on Saturday, the Twitter Safety account tweeted: “We hear the voices who feel that we’re enforcing some policies inconsistently. We agree we must do better, and we are working together inside to do so.
“We’ll continue to respond to concerns about our enforcement through action, not empty words.”