Will Twitter’s New Rules Lead To An NRA Account Suspension?

In order to post to most websites and social media platforms you click “I agree” to their terms of service.  In many instances the terms provide platform owners great flexibility on how to deal with visitors to their websites.  In other words, if you want to play in their sandbox you need to agree to their rules.

Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that Twitter changed its rules at the end of last year in an attempt to limit harassment.  In particular, Twitter’s new rules state:     

Any accounts and related accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be temporarily locked and/or subject to permanent suspension.

  • Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.
  • Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behavior include:
    • if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
    • if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
    • if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
    • if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.
  • Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.

Earlier today, The New York Daily News reported that an NRA controlled Twitter account tweeted a message with the photos of two Brooklyn state lawmakers with bullets next to their photos.  This Tweet appears to have been in reaction to new legislation announced that would limit ammo purchases in the state of New York.  Does the Tweet referenced in The New York Daily News violate Twitter’s new rules? 

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court in Elonis v. United States stated that mens rea (intent) was required to be proven under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) of the U.S. Code (federal law).  While the Elonis case focused on criminal prosecutions, it doesn’t affect whether Twitter or other websites can make their own rules on how people may interact on their platforms.  Therefore, Twitter may at its own discretion decide to suspend the referenced account.

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