Before departing Twitter, an employee briefly deactivated the Twitter account of President Donald Trump on Thursday evening, thus bringing into question the security at the social media giant. Some media outlets, such as the Washington Post, reported that the incident raised, “deep and troubling questions about who has access to the president's personal account, @realDonaldTrump, and the power that access holds.”

It was at about 6:45 p.m. ET Thursday, when visitors to the president’s Twitter page were met with the message, “Sorry, that page doesn't exist!” However, by 7 p.m., the page was restored. About an hour later, when Trump tweeted about tax reform, Twitter released a statement that his “account was inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee.” Twitter stated, “The account was down for 11 minutes, and has since been restored. We are continuing to investigate and are taking steps to prevent this from happening again.”

On Friday morning, Trump tweeted his response to the incident. He wrote: “My Twitter account was taken down for 11 minutes by a rogue employee. I guess the word must finally be getting out and having an impact.”

However, later on Thursday evening, Twitter admitted that a preliminary investigation found that the deactivation was no accident. Twitter revealed that it had been taken down “by a Twitter customer support employee who did this on the employee's last day.” The company is undertaking an internal review.

Twitter has suspended other high-profile accounts in the past, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, for violating its terms and conditions, there had not been any previously known case of an employee acting alone to suspend an account of a well-known person. It is not yet known who the employee in question was or whether there were any other known security breaches.

According to BuzzFeed, a former Twitter employee contends that “a lot” of company employees are able to suspend accounts. Trump has used his official Twitter account since March 2009, tweeting more than 36,000 times to 41.7 million followers.

On Twitter, some people made light of the deactivation. For example, Jessica Winter of New York magazine, tweeted a quote from Twitter’s statement and a gif that showed a woman walking down an office hallway, apparently carrying the contents of her desk.

Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, tweeted, “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.”

The National Archives has advised the Trump administration to preserve all tweets as presidential records. Twitter said it would not remove the tweet or suspend Trump's account, explaining that the company takes a number of factors into account when faced with controversial user-generated content, including its “newsworthiness” and whether it has “public interest.” Twitter’s statement came last month when Trump tweeted bellicose statements directed at North Korea about its repeated nuclear weapons tests. Twitter stands by its commitment to “keeping people informed about what's happening in the world.”

President Trump recognizes the stakes involved in using Twitter. In March, he told Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson “Let me tell you about Twitter. I think maybe I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Twitter.” Having used it effectively during his presidential campaign, Trump has continued to tweet. “Twitter is a wonderful thing for me because I can get the word out,” he told Carlson.

Trump recently told Maria Bartiromo Fox Business Network why he finds Twitter so appealing: “You have to keep people interested also,” he said. “You know, you have to keep people interested.” When Bartiromo asked if his tweets hinder his broader message, Trump replied “I can express my views when somebody expresses maybe a false view that they said I gave.”

The deactivation of Trump’s Twitter account came while Congress and the public are more closely scrutinizing social media and alleged Russian influence. For example, representatives from Twitter, Google, and Facebook faced questions from legislators over their probe into Russian meddling into the 2016 election.

Twitter acknowledged that it found 2,752 accounts controlled by Russian operatives, as well as more than 36,000 bots that issued 1.4 million tweets during the election. Facebook said that nearly half of the American public viewed ads and accounts associated with Russian operatives. Trump continued to tweet on Thursday evening and early on Friday morning, congratulating the Houston Astros on their World Series victory, praising Republicans for their “Great Tax Cut rollout,” and taking aim at his adversaries, such as former FBI director James Comey.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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