Twitter said Friday that it pulled down a Texas state lawmaker’s tweet directed at US presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke because it ran afoul of the site’s rules against violent threats.
The social media company is trying to foster more positive conversations on its platform, and the news about the tweet underscores the challenges Twitter faces as the 2020 campaign season heats up.
During Thursday’s Democratic debate, O’Rourke highlighted his support for mandatory buybacks for assault weapons in remarks he also posted on Twitter.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” O’Rourke, a former Democratic US representative from Texas, tweeted during the debate.
In response, a Republican state representative from Texas tweeted what O’Rourke described as a “death threat” that targeted him.
“My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” Rep. Briscoe Cain tweeted on Thursday night. Cain was referring to O’Rourke by his birth name in the tweet, and AR stands for ArmaLite rifle, which references the name of the weapon’s manufacturer.
The tweet is no longer available on Cain’s account after Twitter alerted the lawmaker that his remarks violated the site’s rules. Twitter will hide a tweet behind a notice if it violates its rules and lock a user’s account until he or she deletes the offending tweet.
“The tweet is in violation of the Twitter rules for violence and wishing harm against others,” a Twitter spokeswoman said in a statement. She referred to the company’s policy against violent threats, which bars users from stating “an intention to inflict violence on a specific person or group of people.”
Micah Barton, a spokeswoman for O’Rourke, said in an email that the campaign reported Cain’s remarks to the FBI but had no further comment. The FBI declined to confirm whether it’s been in contact with O’Rourke’s campaign team.
“To protect the privacy of people who contact the FBI, we cannot confirm or deny any particular contact or the potential existence of an investigation,” said Tina Jagerson, a spokeswoman for the FBI in a statement. “As a general matter, though, allegations of criminal conduct are reviewed by the FBI for their merit, with consideration of any applicable federal laws. When warranted, the FBI takes appropriate action.”
Cain didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. On Twitter, in response to O’Rourke’s remarks about a death threat, Cain called the presidential candidate “a child.”
This isn’t the first time Twitter and other social media companies have faced calls to pull down a politician’s tweet. In 2017, Twitter left up a tweet from The New York Times reported.targeting the foreign minister of North Korea that some argued violated the company’s rules against violent threats. On Thursday, Facebook suspended a chatbot operated by the account of Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu for running afoul of its rules against hate speech,
said in June that it would label tweets from certain politicians and government leaders, including Trump, if their remarks violated the social network’s rules but were left up due to public interest. The company hasn’t yet used the label.
Originally published Sept. 13, 12:59 p.m. PT
Update, 1:29 p.m.: Adds statement from FBI.