Nearly 10 percent of the unverified accounts retweeted by President Trump since his inauguration are currently suspended from Twitter for various violations of the platform’s policies, ranging from hate speech to running fake sockpuppet accounts, a Daily Beast analysis has found.
The most recent occurrence was last week, when Twitter tapped the brakes on “LYNNTHO06607841” just hours after Trump retweeted the account’s proclamation that “DEMOCRATS ARE THE TRUE ENEMIES OF AMERICA!” Before it was boarded up, the account’s timeline was thick with all-caps conspiracy theories targeting prominent Democrats, including a recent tweet claiming Bill and Hillary Clinton “torture and sacrifice children” to get at “a drug that can only be found inside the human skull.”
The suspension set The Daily Beast wondering about the ultimate fate of other Twitter users plucked from relative obscurity by a presidential retweet. Do they thrive and flourish in the limelight, or are they like child stars who often lose their way later in life?
By our count, Trump has picked his retweets from 488 accounts since his swearing-in. Most are public figures, media outlets, and government agencies sporting the familiar blue “verified” check mark attesting to the account-holder’s identity. Of the 178 unverified users, Twitter had 16 on suspended status as of Thursday, when we made the count, with their tweets silenced and their timelines blocked from public view. The number dropped to 15 on Friday when one account returned from a 60-day ban. A single verified account, operated by the far-right group British First, was suspended after Trump retweeted three violent anti-Muslim smears.
With some accounts, there’s no easy way to tell when they were suspended or why. Where we could determine a date, most appeared to be suspended months after Trump retweeted them. Would-be dirty trick artist Jacob Wohl earned three retweets by Trump before he made the mistake of boasting to a USA Today reporter that he was running a network of fake Twitter accounts for election interference purposes, a clear violation of Twitter’s policies. A Mike Pence hoax account wasn’t given the boot until well after Trump retweeted it and mentioned it in separate tweets, evidently thinking it was his vice president’s real account.
With others, though, Twitter’s suspension came right on the heels of Trump’s thumbs-up. Twitter says that being retweeted by a high-profile account doesn’t trigger a review by the company but acknowledges there can be causality between a retweet and a ban shortly thereafter. “A retweet from a high-profile account with a significant number of followers may get tweets noticed by new accounts who may report it, resulting in enforcement,” a company spokesperson said.
When hundreds or thousands of people descend on a user’s profile for the first time, it makes sense that some might take offense at postings that didn’t upset a smaller audience of like-minded followers. But people on the receiving end of a suspension just see more evidence that Trump and his allies are right when they claim social media companies are silencing conservative voices for political reasons.
“Twitter’s always been fair to me,” said Josh Steed, a 39-year-old religious author in Arkansas. “Until the president of the United States retweeted me.”
Last May, Trump retweeted Steed’s posting of a clip from Alex Jones’ Infowars show. The minute-and-a-half video featured interviews with African-American voters at a pro-Trump rally. “So great to watch this!” Trump wrote.
Though Steed’s tweet was already eight months old, Trump’s retweet accrued 40,000 shares, and the video shot up to 3 million views. A second video Steed posed was retweeted by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and then re-retweeted by Trump, earning another 3 million views. “My Twitter page had an explosion of attention,” Steed told The Daily Beast in an interview.
Four days later, Twitter’s abuse team notified Steed by email that he’d violated the platform’s policies with a wholly unrelated tweet directed at an account parodying Trump nemesis Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). The tweet was a meme inspired by a character called “Achmed the Dead Terrorist,” created by a controversial ventriloquist. It consisted of a knock-knock joke with the punchline “I kill you.”
Twitter read the tweet as a death threat, according to a screenshot of the suspension notice Steed provided to The Daily Beast. Steed said he meant it as a joke and that he found the meme in Twitter’s own library of ready-to-use gifs. The Daily Beast confirmed the gif is in Twitter’s collection through the company’s partnership with Giphy.
“I did not threaten to hurt or harm anyone,” he said. “If I violated their policy, it was with their gif.”