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Trump is effectively inciting harassment of a Twitter employee in response to its content-policy enforcement. The company is in an impossible position. (TWTR)

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 26, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump answers questions from reporters during an event on protecting seniors with diabetes in the Rose Garden White House in Washington. On Tuesday, Twitter took the unprecedented step of adding fact-check alerts to two of Trump’s tweets about voting by mail. The next day the president threatened social media companies with new regulation or even shuttering. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
  • President Trump is effectively inciting harassment against one of Twitter's employees.
  • Yoel Roth is being targeted after Twitter fact-checked two inaccurate tweets from the president.
  • Trump wants Twitter to back down and stop applying its rules.
  • Twitter now must choose between making a mockery of its policies and holding firm and facing ever more negative political scrutiny and attacks on its employees. 
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Twitter is in an impossible position.
President Donald Trump is effectively inciting harassment of one of its employees in response to the company correctly applying its policies.
It now has a choice between enforcing its policies and facing ever more harassment and negative political scrutiny — or backing down, which would make a mockery of its rules.
The firestorm started on Tuesday, when Twitter took the unprecedented step of applying fact checks to two inaccurate tweets from Trump that made allegations about mail-in ballot fraud. Trump responded in fury, initially threatening to shut down social-media platforms before going on to prepare to sign an executive order targeting their legal protections.
Meanwhile, his right-wing supporters began attacking Yoel Roth, Twitter's head of site integrity, over the fact checks and his past negative tweets about Trump — even though he wasn't responsible for the fact-check decision.
On Thursday, Trump dramatically escalated matters — directly targeting Roth in a tweet to his 80 million followers.
"So ridiculous to see Twitter trying to make the case that Mail-In Ballots are not subject to FRAUD," he tweeted. "How stupid, there are examples, & cases, all over the place. Our election process will become badly tainted & a laughingstock all over the World. Tell that to your hater @yoyoel." (@yoyoel is Roth's Twitter handle.)
Roth has already received harassment and death threats after being targeted by the right. Trump's tweet is certain to inflame this. It also could violate Twitter's policies on harassment, which "prohibit behavior that encourages others to harass or target specific individuals or groups with abusive behavior. This includes, but is not limited to; calls to target people with abuse or harassment online and behavior that urges offline action such as physical harassment."
The question is whether the phrase "tell that to your hater" was directed at Twitter, asking the company to talk to its employee, or at Trump's Twitter followers as an instruction to swarm the employee with messages. Either way, the outcome is the same: Roth will face a new tidal wave of abuse as a result of the president's tweet.
Collectively, Trump's actions are a clear attempt at intimidation. He wants the social network to back down, stop its fact-checking, and generally bend to his will. (The attack is also viewed as popular with Trump's voter base; some on the right have long made unproven claims of anti-conservative bias by tech companies.)
But Twitter has now set a precedent. To stop its fact-checking efforts now would be to acknowledge it had been bullied into submission by the president and that any of its rules can be broken if you're powerful enough.
The alternative, though, is to face escalating conservative anger, further hostile legislation and executive orders, and harassment of its employees by the most powerful man in the world.
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SEE ALSO: Trump is unleashing an executive order against social media companies, and it could trigger a legal fight they desperately want to avoid
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