Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley testify before the House Oversight Committee hearing on family separation and detention centers, on Friday, July 12, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Trump’s attack this Sunday on four first-term congresswomen was widely viewed as one of the most racist he’s ever produced. Not everyone agrees, however. Twitter, whose platform serves as a catapult for Trump’s bigoted attacks on migrants, has ruled internally that Trump’s words on Sunday were not racist at all—at least, insofar as its own policies are concerned.

Trump’s tweets took aim at progressive Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley—a squad of freshman lawmakers whose recent dust-ups with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have dominated the attention of the popular press. Having a noted aversion to not being the sole focus of the media’s attention, Trump lurched into the fray Sunday morning with a fistful of racial stereotypes that could have been easily cribbed from the pages of a Ku Klux Klan manifesto.

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Trump’s message to the four women of color, three of whom are U.S.-born citizens: Go back to your country.

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ...

... and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how. ...

... it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

Last month, Twitter announced that while the president will continue to remain exempt from the consequences of violating its policies, it would downrank and flag any “public interest” tweets that violate its rules.

“We may allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability,” the company stated. “When this happens, we add a notice to clarify that the Tweet violates our rules, but we believe it should be left up to serve this purpose.”

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Noticeably, Trump’s go-back-to-your-country tweets remain unflagged.

“The plain reading of Twitter’s policies against repeated targeting and bullying of individuals using racist slurs and tropes makes clear that the president’s latest rant against Rep. Ilhan Omar and other congresswomen of color goes too far,” said Madihha Ahussain, a special counsel for Muslim Advocates, one of many civil rights groups working to persuade Twitter and other social networks to take meaningful action to address racist and extremist content.

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Twitter declined to comment on the record about its decision, pointing instead to its policy of adding a “notice” to any “public interest” tweet that violates its rules. The company confirmed that nothing has changed in the past month and that such notices will be issued when deemed appropriate. The implication here is clear: Twitter does not view Trump’s tweets Sunday as a violation of its hateful conduct policy.

The policy in question outlines the types of tweets viewed by Twitter as directly attacking people on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin, among other protected categories, such as sexual orientation. Among the specific violations listed in the policy is one against the use of “racist and sexist tropes.” The use of racist stereotypes is also considered a violation. It reads:

We prohibit targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.

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“Trump has repeatedly targeted Congresswoman Omar with anti-Muslim slurs about hating America, being a terrorist and being foreign. These are are well-worn, well-documented, anti-Muslim tropes intended to dehumanize, degrade and reinforce negative stereotypes,” Ahussain said, adding: “If the president’s tweets don’t violate Twitter’s policies and deserve a disclaimer, what does?”

Twitter’s policies, she said, ultimately mean nothing if they aren’t vigorously enforced. (Twitter is one of the only major social networks not to ban explicitly white supremacist content.)

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Brandi Collins-Dexter, a senior campaign director at Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, told Gizmodo that Twitter has time and again put revenue and notoriety ahead of public safety. “For years, people of color and women, particularly Black women, have been the victims of coordinated and vicious campaigns of abuse on Twitter,” she said.

“Trump’s consistent targeting and abuse of women of color in Congress is not only vulgar, reckless, and shameful—it’s flat out dangerous,” she added. “Twitter choosing not even to label his content what it is, is just more proof they can’t be serious about fixing a problem of their own making.”

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Update, 1:20pm: Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and member of Change the Terms, a national coalition working to better social media policies to address hate, sent Gizmodo the follow statement:

Trump’s telling four elected Members of Congress to go back to their own countries is 1960s Birmingham Bull Connor racist. If this did not merit even a warning under Twitter’s new ‘Trump disclaimer’ rule then the rule is meaningless. Twitter is enabling Trump’s racism and has become his racist megaphone.

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