Trump's Twitter Account Down For 11 Minutes

Nov 3, 2017
Originally published on November 3, 2017 6:41 pm

President Trump's Twitter account disappeared for a few minutes on Thursday after a departing Twitter employee deactivated it. Mary Louise Kelly speaks to NPR's Laura Sydell about security questions that raises about the president's favorite medium for disseminating information.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Eleven minutes - that's how long President Trump's Twitter account was down last night. Twitter says it was taken down by someone at the company, and that is raising all kinds of questions about the security of the president's favorite means of communication. Here to help answer some of those questions is NPR's Laura Sydell. Hey, Laura.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: What have you been able to learn about how this happened?

SYDELL: Well, what we do know is that reportedly this was a contract employee of the company, and it was that employee's last day on the job. Now, in a statement, all Twitter would say is that they've implemented security measures to make sure it won't happen again. And they said they're not going to give us any more details about their internal investigation.

But a lot of people who monitor Twitter for content that violates its rules, I should add, are in - contractors who are in Asia. And my sources say that contractors have had the ability to flag and take down accounts that violate Twitter rules in, say, the Philippines.

KELLY: I mean, it's just incredible that a contractor leaving Twitter has the ability to take down the president's Twitter account. Do we know, by the way, if it was intentional?

SYDELL: We don't know. We don't know.

KELLY: What kind of alarm bells is this ringing, though, for cybersecurity experts as they look at this?

SYDELL: Well, you know, I would say it's ringing quite a few. I mean, there is the possibility that somebody could, say, break into the president's account and start tweeting on his behalf. And given that the president uses the platform to announce policy, discuss relations with North Korea...

KELLY: He tweets, and it moves the markets, yeah.

SYDELL: That's right. You know, or it could start a war. This is worrisome. And Twitter is not a company that's known to be the most organized about security, historically speaking. And I say this having spoken to several people who used to work there fairly recently. Twitter has a problem competing with talent. You know, the much bigger, more wealthier companies - Facebook, Apple, Google - are looking for the best talent. So Twitter's got to compete for those people.

I've also learned from sources that during the election, Trump's Twitter account was managed with outside software. So this is a way to help a candidate manage and curate followers on his account, but that also makes it more easily hackable. And it wouldn't be easy to hack. I want to make that clear. But his account would sure be an enticing target to a lot of people.

KELLY: It sure would. In the seconds we've got left, should we all be rethinking the way that we use Twitter and other social media if the president's account isn't safe?

SYDELL: Yes, I actually do think that we should. Twitter is not known for its security. And again, it has contractors on the other side of the world monitoring its content, making decisions. I will quickly throw in - the IRS has got this down. It makes it really - it protects accounts from being accessed by employees, you know, so - really carefully. So maybe Twitter should take a page from the IRS.

KELLY: NPR's Laura Sydell, thanks so much.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.