Don't Cheer For The Twitter Employee Who Deleted Donald Trump's Account

from the that's-a-bad-thing dept

As you probably have heard, last night for a period of 11 minutes, Donald Trump’s Twitter account looked like this:

Not surprisingly, lots of people noticed quickly… and, then it came back. Soon after, Twitter admitted it was “inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee.” Two hours later, this message was clarified to say that “done by a Twitter customer support employee… on the employee’s last day.”

This, in turn, led a bunch of folks on Twitter to start gleefully praising this employee (whose name is not yet known, but likely will be soon). Because it’s Twitter, and Twitter can get giddy over stuff like this, there were lots of jokes and people calling this employee a hero and whatnot. (Update: A new report says that it wasn’t even a full-time employee, but a contractor).

I take a very different view on this. Earlier this year, Cathy Gellis wrote a post here explaining why it would be a bad idea to kill Trump’s Twitter account. You can read that post for details, but the larger point is that under no circumstances would such a move be viewed as anything other than a political statement. Twitter more or less admitted this a few weeks back when it made a public statement saying that it considers “newsworthiness” as a factor in determining whether a tweet violates its terms. And, by definition, the President’s tweets are newsworthy.

The larger question, honestly, is how the hell a customer service rep, especially one who wasn’t even a full time employee, but a contractor — on his or her last day — had the power to simply delete the President’s twitter account. You can see how things got to this point: I’m sure in the early days, just about anyone could delete someone’s account on the platform. Over time, I assume that the power was limited more and more to customer service reps — but they were still granted the power to do so if it was necessary. But it’s fairly incredible that there aren’t at least some controls on this — requiring a second person’s permission? Locking certain key Twitter accounts? — that would make what this employee did impossible.

And, of course, it’s raising lots of other questions. Did this customer service rep have the ability to tweet as Trump? Considering how quickly the world reacts to Trump tweets, that could create serious havoc. I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty more on this soon, and Twitter will eventually share some sort of post mortem on new processes and controls that have been put in place, but the fact that this even happened in the first place is not a cause for celebration, but one for concern about how Twitter’s controls and processes work.

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Comments on “Don't Cheer For The Twitter Employee Who Deleted Donald Trump's Account”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This. THIS. A thousand times this. All these operations claim to have internal controls in place, and they’re all lying, lying, lying. Presume that any scrap of data or metadata that you give to Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc., will be accessible on demand to some number of their personnel.

Some of whom, of course, are no doubt making some extra tax-free income by selling it. (Far-fetched? Please. Do you REALLY think that every single last one of the huge number of people working in these operations is immune to the temptation? Really?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Oh, not only that, but people at the core of automation and orchestration usually have the tools and capability to high-jack everyone elses account and do just about anything they want with them. The only real challenge is getting away without your nefarious efforts getting logged or audited in some way. But a lot of companies are shockingly lax on auditing and logging.

I.T. Guy says:

Twitter are idiots. So as long as it’s newsworthy you can break TOS? Who decides what is and isn’t newsworthy? Twit? Mike? Myself? I personally find his rants not worthy of anything.

“had the power to simply delete the President’s twitter account.”
I terminated the head of HR’s AD account with a PowerShell script when I entered the user ID incorrectly. You’d be surprised how much power IT contractors get.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Pretty much this. Most platforms these days are in the same position I was in back when I was a telemarketer. Everybody around you belongs in one of two camps. People who are angry with you for not doing what you are told efficiently enough regardless of how plausible those tasks are… and people who are angry with you for TRYING to do what you are told efficiently enough regardless of how plausible those tasks are.

Not that I give anyone a free pass, seeing as I tend to be in the latter camp with many platforms (mostly youtube), but it is definately a rock and hard place situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why would a rational person want to delete Trump's account?

“A person is displaying a Nazi flag in their window. Should that be banned? Why?”

Because you should be forced to “respect” my bullshit while I get to call your bullshit, well… bullshit!

Don’t worry, I am very fair and unbiased, I don’t have a racist bone in my body while I call you the same… it’s really for your own good ya know!

Oblate (profile) says:

Was it even anti-Trump?

Were I a Trump supporter, I would be thrilled to see his Twitter account voluntarily disabled in the hopes that he would use a more dignified method of communications (as he seemingly can’t use Twitter in a dignified manner). As it is, I appreciate (but don’t follow) his Twitter account for the combination of humor and horror that it unintentionally provides. Either way, Trump, as a U.S. citizen, has the right to express himself however he wants to and supporters and detractors should condemn moves like this. Anyone who supports this can’t complain when the same thing happens to their preferred politician.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Was it even anti-Trump?

No, although the idea had crossed my mind.

Twitter admins could suspend or ban Trump from the service at any time they see fit. If they did so, however, Twitter could then slam into a wall of potential legal ramifications that it may not want to deal with—including the hashing out of whether they actually have the right to suspend or ban an official line of communication from a government employee. Thus an argument could be made that, by becoming the POTUS, Donald Trump has effectively—albeit unintentionally—forced Twitter to host his speech for at least the duration of his time in office.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Disagree. For one it’s Twitter so apart from some rep points what is the actual, real value of fine-grained access controls that would justify their costs? Secondly, it’s Twitter. It’s pretty clear account handling is somewhere near the root of the actual purpose of their operations. Thirdly, any IT access to a user based operation necessarily includes tools and methods to manipulate your platform and the components within it, contractor or not. Lastly, the piece seem to have a somewhat idyllic and idealistic view of what’s possible, much less reasonable, regarding procedure, process and operations in any tech with scale. As a bonus it’s just IT. Any savvy player with access is ever only a few steps removed from being able to create or destroy just about anything.

And so I will cheer.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Disagree. For one it’s Twitter so apart from some rep points what is the actual, real value of fine-grained access controls that would justify their costs?

We’re seeing it right now. We’re one disgruntled contractor away from mass account deletion. While this was quickly reversed, it’s embarrassing, and Twitter has plenty of money woes and PR difficulties without additional embarrassments.

Any savvy player with access is ever only a few steps removed from being able to create or destroy just about anything.

And so I will cheer.

I can appreciate it as a prank that didn’t really hurt anybody and made a political statement. But it’s a pretty clear breach of professional ethics.

I wouldn’t want somebody who fucks with user accounts for political reasons as an admin. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want Donald Trump as a user.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We’re pretty much always one disgruntled system admin away from mass account deletion. That has not, nor will ever change. Ultimately someone has to have the keys to the kingdom otherwise stuff doesn’t get done.

And honestly, Twitter could decide tomorrow to just shut down and then all accounts would be gone for good. Disgruntled contractor/admin or not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“We’re pretty much always one disgruntled system admin away from mass account deletion.”

also one idiot IT person too. I have been part of environments were I had to recover from some amazing stupid fuck ups. People deleting massive numbers of accounts, People reformatting computers with automation tools gone awry, people improperly configuring RAID 0 on databases that hold mission critical data, massive power failure because someone did not know the proper order of shutdown to transfer UPS power…. yea… we have more than enough trouble with just the tards… malicious is entirely another problem.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

was once turned down for a job in favor of a guy straight out of college, got a call a week later, asking if i could come in, they may have a job for me after all….

the idiot used an idiots guide book, to “optimize” the server…..using examples that clearly stated they where just examples, and, they didnt have a backup that was less then 90days old… of anything…..

i had to get 3 old servers running and restore the backups to them….and copy the settings over (old tape backup system, it took 2 days to restore the systems….gods tape sucks…lol….)

but yeah…that was fun, i worked for them for 2 weeks, they got me whatever i asked for for lunch/dinner, and when i was done, they offered me the job rather then just the contract work to fix the fuckup…told them to get fukt i didnt want to work for people who hired somebody who, openly admitted he wasnt qualified and would rather have worked for me…before they hired him…the manager who i dealt with most of that time, said “good choice” and gave me a sealed letter that had an extra 500bucks, a bunch of gift cert books for fast food…. and a letter telling me to go to an address, and ask for a person and give them the letter….worked for that place for 3 years till the owner sold the place to a guy who was, pretty much, a used car salesman, selling networked projector/audio/lighting/etc setups and installs..we did that stuff as well as other shit, the guy was just to shady and creepy for me…..way to touchy with young girls….i got another job that was alot closer to home, paid less but had better benefits then we had after that idiot bought the place… so all in all, it worked out… and i ended up doing contract work for that other company a few more times, only because the manager who got me the job, and was brother in law to the former owner of that business asked, made good money, and always got a bonus at the end… hell once also got a bunch of servers and desktops they had replaced given to me on top of the cash bonus…. that they called a “disposal fee” turned around and got them all cleaned and setup with fresh os’s, and sold or gave them away (the pos p4 desktops all got given away with vector linux installed on them…as it was the best linux option for that specific hardware…and unlike windows, was actually useable..)

bah, way to long a post, but yeah, i have seen WAY WAY WAY more issues with idiots fucking shit up, when you combine that with malice, well….its sort of the perfect storm of stupid… “never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence” but, i always add “but never discount that incompetence and malice are often not exclusive”

sometimes, i have also found, incompetence caused by malice… for example, the employee who hates their employer and dosnt take proper care when doing their job, and as a result costs the company money rather then generating it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Going to have to agree with Rapnel and actually disagree with TD for once. Should it have happened? No, definitely an abuse of power. But that’s kind of how IT works, ultimately, someone is God in the system, sometimes it’s just one person, sometimes it’s multiple people. IT has to work that way because at the end of the day, somebody has to have the power to get things done.

Having had some experience in IT and contractor work, contractors are generally given far more system access than they need. Why? Laziness for one, it’s easier to give them a temp admin account than try to figure out exactly what they will and will not need access to. Not saying this is good IT practice (it’s not, it’s really bad IT practice) but it happens pretty frequently. And if you don’t give them the access they need on the first try, many times they go whining to the CEO or owner and then your day gets really crappy.

I will agree that it probably isn’t such a good idea to shut down his Twitter account just so we can keep an eye on what he says/does. Like Twitter said, it’s newsworthy. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish he would just shut up already.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Doubtful. it’s just a simple fact that access control can be difficult, and is frequently done poorly. Contractors as a group a frequently given more access than they need.

What is really stupid about your statement is that the original AC put the onus on those who were in charge if giving them excessive access, whether that is an IT lazy mistake or a managerial lazy decision.

So, why, are you a contractor? (Since this thread has a nice populations of questions which are “just questions”.)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The problem is that lots of other venues report on what he’s said via Twitter, and the short-form nature of Twitter always seems to guarantee that he will say something outlandishly stupid (and thus newsworthy). Whether he’s making up new words, screaming at people to “DO SOMETHING” or causing international incidents, you can’t avoid his nonsense just by not using Twitter yourself.

It would certainly be easier to avoid what he says if he were restricted to venues that either required some pre-vetting of what he says or encouraged some level of decorum. With Twitter, he can spout whatever nonsense occurs to him during his 3am toilet visit and have it reported upon around the world before his staff can invent a reasonable defense (which they’re not particularly good at composing to begin with).

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Cathy Gellis is wrong about this

Twitter should have axed Trump’s account a long time ago, by applying its ToS in re threats/abuse as it would to anyone else. “Newsworthy” does not excuse abuse in this context any more than it does elsewhere. It’s simply a euphemism for “helps drive our profits”, which is obviously Twitter’s only value and only goal.

The problem is that Twitter has completely lost control of its own operation. They have no idea how to run their service and are too arrogant to admit it (not to mention too scared of what such an admission would do to profits). If they actually had a *minimal* level of competence and diligence in the area of abuse control, Trump’s account would have been gone a long time ago — along with MANY others.

But that’s not what’s happened. And as an article today points out ( ) there’s a reason why: profits.

Twitter is now completely overrun with bots, fake accounts, doxing, threats, and other forms of abuse because it failed to deal with these things effectively when they first started — when both the scope and scale were manageable. One of the very first lessons of effective abuse control is that you MUST take early action, because if you wait, you may find that you can’t — or that it’s much harder. This isn’t news to anybody who’s been paying attention for the last 25 years, but apparently nobody at Twitter could be bothered to learn even the basics and/or apply them.

Twitter is managed by spineless cowards and operated by ignorant newbies. Top to bottom, it’s a shitpile, and the best thing for the Internet — and arguably, for the US — would be to disconnect it, shut it down, pull the power cables, turn out the lights, lock the doors, and go home. Maybe, MAYBE, somebody out there has what it takes to design, build, and operate a similar service — and perhaps that would be a good thing. And if so, Twitter will serve as a model: a model of exactly what not to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cathy Gellis is wrong about this

Twitter is famous for the double standards with which it applies the ToS. Banning Trump for ToS violations would just verify the partisan way in which Twitter operates, which is why they won’t do it. Can’t be effective propaganda if everyone knows you’re propaganda.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cathy Gellis is wrong about this

Banning Trump for ToS violations would just verify the partisan way in which Twitter operates

Oh, you mean like how Twitter will not ban trolls and harassers, but will shadowban or suspend people who insult those trolls and harassers? I should know—I identify as liberal, and I got dinged with a 24-hour suspension for cussing in a tweet directed at a Verified Account™.

But if you still think Twitter is in the bag for liberals, you should know this: The big Twitter news today was its rollout of new guidelines about (among other things) pornographic material. Parts of those new rules read like a 19th century Victorian priest wrote them—which would make those rules far more aligned with conservatives than with liberals.

Twitter consistently handles its internal policies in an inconsistent way. To believe otherwise is to believe Twitter admins give a shit about anything other than making money by making sure Twitter looks busy.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cathy Gellis is wrong about this

Twitter isn’t operated in order to further anyone’s partisan agenda.

Twitter is operated to maximize profits.

It’s easy to view any individual Twitter decision through the lens of one’s own politics, but that’s a mistake. Take a wider view, and it becomes abundantly obvious that there’s no particular pattern of support of anyone or anything. What there IS, is a service completely out of control, far beyond the meager abilities of the inexperienced people running it — people who are now desperately flailing to conceal just how bad it really is, and are thus compounding their incompetence and negligence with hasty, poor decisions.

It’s too late. It’s much, much too late for Twitter. They built something that they have no idea how to run, and did such a horrible job of it that it was easy for third parties to co-opt it for their own ends. Now they’re frantically trying to conceal that and to pretend that by belatedly slapping band-aid after band-aid on their myriad problems they can somehow magically solve them.

Ummm, no.

Mark Scorah (profile) says:

Mike you are an admin here correct? Can you post a new post as Tim Cushing? Bearing in mind even as an admin of an old school message board, I could edit or delete anyone’s posts that already exist, however I couldn’t post on their behalf. I’d need their password. Given twitter doesn’t even have an edit option it seems even less credible that a customer service worker could post as someone else. Of course there are questions to be asked about the choice of font where a capital I appears the same as an l for easy impersonation, and to some extent rn looking like an m.

stine (profile) says:

Re: posting as another user

Its simple, even in a system controlled by MS Active Directory, the only thing you have to be aware of is that changing the password, and then resetting it to what it was originally are going to be logged, so even if you accomplish it, you’re still going to get noticed (unless you also restore the logs, and they were only stored locally)

I haven’t done this in more than a decade, but it used to be rather simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Probably did it for publicity

Seems to me the person probably did it for personal gain.
Considering that 99% of the media hates Trump with the heat of a thousand suns, and so does most of Tech and Hollywood, this person will soon be declared a hero, do the Talk-show circuit, be hailed as a brave champion of progressive rights and get dozens of high paying job offers.
At least if his/her/zee’s plan to get their name out there works out.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Probably did it for publicity

Seems to me the person probably did it for personal gain.

Considering how he no longer has a job, how he will probably face a shitload of legal charges related to the CFAA, how his search for his fifteen minutes of fame will mean next-to-nothing in the long run, and how his actions have now led to an internal review from Twitter that will likely prevent someone else from taking the exact same action…he choose poorly.

Bruce C. says:

Meanwhile, back on topic...

I can most assuredly laud this person as a merry-prankster, since this ended up being no harm/no foul other than yet another round of weird publicity about Trump’s Twitter account.

But yeah, take free speech seriously folks. In order to protect the rights of the weak and powerless, we have to protect the rights of those who offend us with their speech.
The tools we craft to suppress offensive speech surely will be used to achieve other goals. First, against the weak and powerless, and then against all of us. After all no matter how many people get jailed or disappeared, there’s still about half the population that is politically weaker than average.

Anonymous Coward says:

Trump's More Equal?

“But it’s fairly incredible that there aren’t at least some controls on this — requiring a second person’s permission? Locking certain key Twitter accounts?”

‘Cuz, like, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” right?

Thanks, no – I’ll cheer.

Kay (profile) says:

Re: Trump's More Equal?

That’s not why he said that some accounts should be locked.

The reason he said that is because some accounts, due to their importance or the controversy associated with them, are going to be more likely to be messed with than others.

It’s not because Trump is more deserving of protection. It’s because those accounts are more susceptible to employee abuse… the thing the story is about.

I think the question of whether an employee can send tweets under someone else’s Twitter account is pretty fascinating, though. Undoubtedly this is possible for at least some of the staff at Twitter…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Trump's More Equal?

“It’s because those accounts are more susceptible to employee abuse… the thing the story is about.”

Exactly, just as Wikipedia locks articles that are potentially controversial, only people with certain levels of trust should be able to access certain accounts at Twitter. I’d say this should be at minimum supervisors and above only having access to “trusted” accounts, as these are important enough for the company to have put work into verifying the identity of the owner. Most other types of companies won’t let front line CS staff have admin control over customer accounts, so why here? Apart from the relative lack of risk (no payment/IRL addressing info involved), that would be a huge problem normally.

As much of a childish giggle it is for Trump to be shown the risks of depending on a non-government platform for his insane rambling, it is concerning that a low level contractor apparently has the ability to disable accounts on a whim. Doubly so on the last day of employment (the most likely day a person will use to take out grudges).

“the question of whether an employee can send tweets under someone else’s Twitter account is pretty fascinating”

Not really. Impersonating a client is possible at pretty much any company that has its own software/databases/etc. Be it through root access to systems, ability to clone & modify production data, etc., someone high enough or tricky enough can do this.

The real question is whether or not they can get away with it, and whether the price and risk of being caught is worth anyone doing reward is worth the risk. Every company will have at least some people who have root access to the system and the ability to do this, they just don’t generally do it.

If a CS agent has that ability, there’s major problem, but there will always be someone who can do such things if they don’t care too much about potential consequences.

John E Cressman (profile) says:


Trust No One Mr Mulder. Truer now than it was then.

At some point, the government will classify things like Twitter and Facebook as public utilities and regulate them because of things like this.

Let’s face it, I’m guessing more people use twitter than use hard lines and hard lines (phone lines) are public utilities.

The fact that some nameless contractor has that sort of power should SCARE people. Not just from a twitter standpoint… but Google search results… facebook pages… youtube videos… etc. One person can decided your fate. And if they CAN post as you… think of the chaos.

Imagine if some political hack wannabe at twitter decided to tweet something like “Tomorrow we’re going to nuke Rocket Man (North Korea).”

Imagine what could happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Trust?

Let’s face it, I’m guessing more people use twitter than use hard lines and hard lines (phone lines) are public utilities.

And the phone line regulations say that they let anybody phone anybody else, and say what they want. So they are already trying to impose more control over what people can say on social media that what they can communicate over the phone.

John85851 (profile) says:

Personal versus government account

Changing the subject slightly: I think one issue to consider is that Trump is still tweeting from his personal account, not the official @POTUS account. I hope that Twitter has more restrictions on who can and can’t access official government accounts, but until Trump uses the official POTUS account, then his account is subject to the same terms as everyone else’s.
Sure, Twitter might not delete his tweets because they’re “newsworthy”, but they obviously didn’t change the employee access. So, technically, anyone else “on their last day” could also switch off Trump’s account at any time.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

The enemy of your enemy ain’t always your friend. I dislike them both, for the record; Trump because he’s a boorish, ignorant prat and Clinton because she’s a neocon war hawk. Both are in the bag for corporations at the expense of natural persons. THIS is why partisanship is nonsense. Give it up!

Kang and Kodos may be different in some ways but in others they are very much the same.

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