For a whole 11 minutes yesterday evening, the Twitter account for the US president Donald Trump — @realdonaldtrump — was deactivated.
Anyone visiting the president’s page, which is Trump’s main platform for espousing his views to the public, would have seen a message claiming: “Sorry, this page does not exist!”
Twitter’s political account, tweeted to say the account was “inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee”.
However, it later followed up, saying that the account was taken down by a customer support employee on their last day in work, meaning that it was a deliberate move.
It’s serious for Twitter to deactivate Trump’s account
For all the joking and laughing that Twitter was a blissful zone for all of 11 minutes without the president’s usual tirades, it’s actually fairly serious.
You may not enjoy when Trump uses Twitter to threaten nuclear war on North Korea, but you can’t argue with the fact he has the right to do so.
If it is possible for Twitter to remove political figures for their views, it raises some worrying concerns about freedom of speech on the platform.
Social media companies, like Twitter and Facebook, have been criticised for claiming to be champions of freedom of expression but can be found removing content when faced with requests from autocratic regimes.
For instance, in 2014, Twitter agreed to demands from the Russian and Pakistani governments to remove content that the governing bodies called “blasphemous”.
Twitter says its goal is to “respect our users’ expression, while also taking into consideration applicable local laws”, which is why it takes down dissident tweets when requested.
Yet it demonstrates the difficulties social media companies face when it comes to walking the fine lines between freedom of expression and censorship.
What’s Twitter going to do now?
The company has said it will be conducting a full internal review and taking steps to prevent this from happening again.
It will have to add this problem to the top of its list which includes still not turning a profit and issues over the way it counts its user base, which is sort of growing but not growing.