On June 14, a Virginia man used Twitter to threaten to shoot Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRoy Blunt has helped forge and fortify the shared bonds between Australia and America The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (R-Mo.) in the head for “allowing someone to murder my loved ones.”
That threat and a number of others remained live on Twitter for two weeks even though the man who sent them, Kyler Schmitz, was being detained after a court found there was probable cause to charge him for illegally using interstate communications to make the threat.
Twitter suspended the account at noon on Tuesday after questioning from The Hill.
Another tweet directed at Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-N.D.) says, “I’m coming for you,” with a short video clip of a "Breaking Bad" character holding a gun.
Yet another says, “Let's #ShootRepublicans #Politicians” and “#Shooting #Republicans is #Fun!!”
Capitol Police have been investigating the threats for two week and filed charges against Schmitz last week.
It is unclear why many of the threats remained up for two weeks on Twitter, which has an explicit policy that tells users, “You may not make threats of violence or promote violence.”
After multiple questions from The Hill, a Twitter spokesman said, "We do not comment on individual accounts or investigations, but it looks like the account you mentioned has been suspended."
Twitter relies on users to flag abusive content and might not have known about the threatening tweets until recently. Blunt's office said it did not reach out to Twitter, and Capitol Police said it would not comment on pending litigation.
In its help center, Twitter allows anyone to fill out a form to flag abusive behavior “so we can review your report.”
The Hill on Monday filled out the form, flagging the tweet that references Blunt and noted that the user behind the tweet was currently being detained by authorities over it. A response came only after The Hill reached out to Twitter's communications team.
The incident highlights a common criticism of the social media platform: that the company is not always consistent and responsive in removing abusive content.
New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman recently noted that he didn’t receive much of a response about abusive tweets directed at him until he threatened to leave Twitter. He eventually did leave Twitter.
In the past year, Twitter has taken steps to try to rectify its monitoring of abuse after former CEO Dick Costolo starkly noted, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls.”
Since then it has given users more tools to block abusive users and increased its spending so it can handle more abuse reports. It announced in February that it had removed more than 125,000 accounts that promote terrorism since the middle of last year.
Schmitz has a detention hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday as the case proceeds to a grand jury. His fiancee says the tweets were meant as satire following the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that killed 49 people.
In Schmitz’s timeline, he makes numerous claims that his tweets are an offshoot of Tourette syndrome and notes that speech is much less threatening than a gun.
At one point after the threatening tweets were sent, he even sought advice from the Alexandria, Va., Police Department on what he could say within the limits of the First Amendment.
The department’s official Twitter account actually responded, saying: “You can say what you want, but then you also have to deal with the consequences of your actions. THAT is how it works.”