Trump called out Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.) on Aug. 17 for their criticism of his leadership. Here are 4 other politicians Trump has targeted on Twitter. (Video: Elyse Samuels/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
President Trump’s Twitter account was briefly deactivated Thursday night by a departing Twitter employee, the company said, raising serious questions about the security of a tool the president wields to set major policy agendas, connect with his voter base, and lash out at his adversaries.
The company has suspended other high-profile accounts in the past for violating its terms and conditions.
But there has not been a case where an employee has acted alone to take down the account of a well-known person, seemingly on their own.
Such an event sparks deep and troubling questions about who has access to the president’s account and the power that access holds. The deactivation also came at a time when the social network is under scrutiny for the role it played in spreading Russian propaganda during the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s account initially disappeared at around 7 p.m. ET Thursday, with visitors to the page met with the message, “Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!” For about an hour, the Twitter-sphere joked about the short-lived window of history without @realDonaldTrump.
Trump's Twitter account has vanished pic.twitter.com/B0hQpBO9OW
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 2, 2017
But then at 8:05 p.m. ET, Twitter posted a statement saying Trump’s “account was inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee.”
“The account was down for 11 minutes, and has since been restored,” the statement read. “We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again.”
However, two hours later, Twitter admitted that the deactivation wasn’t an accident at all. A preliminary investigation showed that Trump’s account was taken offline “by a Twitter customer support employee who did this on the employee’s last day.”
Twitter said it would beconducting a full internal review.
The president is aware of the issue and the White House is in touch with Twitter, said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate matter.
A spokeswoman from Twitter said no new information about the investigation would be released Thursday night. It was still unclear who the employee was, how that employee got access to the president’s account, and whether any security breaches led to the subsequent deactivation.
“A lot” of employees can suspend a user’s account, a former senior Twitter employee told Buzzfeed. But far fewer — only hundreds — have the power to deactivate one. There was some discussion at the company about special protections on verified or high-profile accounts, but that extra measures were “never implemented,” the unnamed source said.
Trump has used the account since March 2009. He has tweeted more than 36,000 times and has 41.7 million followers.
On Twitter, some people made light of the deactivation, while others wondered about the potential consequences of Twitter employees who have access to a megaphone of the president of the United States.
Dear Twitter employee who shut down Trump's Twitter: You made America feel better for 11 minutes. DM me & I will buy you a Pizza Hut pizza. https://t.co/ruzaVBcQp1
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) November 3, 2017
Seriously, what if this person had tweeted about a fictional nuclear strike on North Korea? https://t.co/TcvpXqXk42
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) November 3, 2017
The president’s use of the social media platform is no trivial matter.
The National Archives has advised Trump to preserve all tweets as presidential records, and a professor at the U.S. Naval War College is worried that U.S. enemies could be using Trump’s tweets to build a psychological profile of the president, The Post’s Avi Selk reported.
Trump’s recent tweets on North Korea heightened tensions between the two countries, with Trump threatening that “they won’t be around much longer!” and that “only one thing will work!” In the past, North Korean officials have responded to Trump’s tweets as declarations of war.
Trump also recognizes the power of the social platform.
“Let me tell you about Twitter,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson in March. “I think maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter.”
A tool once used by a campaigning candidate to disparage his opponents and rally his followers is now Trump’s favorite online means of promoting his presidential agenda.
“Twitter is a wonderful thing for me because I can get the word out,” he told Carlson.
The incident also comes at a time when Twitter and other technology companies are under greater scrutiny for the way they can be abused.
Earlier this week, lawyers from Twitter, Facebook and Google testified on Capitol Hill as part of the investigation into Russia’s influence of the 2016 presidential election. In public statements,Twitter acknowledged that it had identified 2,752 accounts controlled by Russian operatives, as well as more than 36,000 bots that issues 1.4 million tweets during the election.
On Thursday, Trump used his account to congratulate the Houston Astros for winning the World Series, call on Congress to “TERMINATE” the diversity visa lottery and announce the nomination of Jerome Powell as the next chair of the Federal Reserve.
Trump was back tweeting at 8:05 p.m., praising the day’s “Great Tax Cut rollout.”
He has yet to tweet about his sudden deactivation.