By Maggie Astor
This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a deleted Twitter account.
At least, so it appeared for 11 minutes Thursday evening, when visitors to President Donald Trump's personal account, @realDonaldTrump, were informed that there was no such thing. The error message on some devices was even more dire: "@realDonaldTrump does not exist."
Amid a presidency that has seemed, at times, to be conducted primarily in 140-character pieces, this was a seismic event – and what was left of Twitter erupted. It was a raucous, modern-day town-square gathering of the sort not seen since ... well, since five months ago, when Trump coined a new word in the middle of the night.
It was just before 7 p.m. Thursday, and the internet was in an uproar. Time stopped. The sun rose in the west and set in the east. What, the watchers wondered, was going on? Had Twitter closed the president's account? Had a White House aide snatched the phone from Trump's tweeting hands? Had Robert Mueller chosen this moment to rifle through the president's direct messages? Had Trump himself – could it be? – decided he'd had enough of his favorite medium? The answer, revealed three hours later, was something straight out of "Office Space."
After saying in an initial statement that the account had been "inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee," Twitter announced that a rogue customer support worker had done it on his or her last day at the company. Many of Trump's supporters were incensed, with some saying the incident showed a disregard for free speech. His opponents, on the other hand, were gleeful.
America: Hire this person. https://t.co/R8TsEDzfqI
— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) November 3, 2017
Even before Twitter confirmed that the deactivation had been deliberate, some were speculating about it.
In the tech world, the statement raised more questions than it answered. Twitter has never said how many employees have access to Trump's account, or described the safeguards it has in place for its highest-profile users. And the company is already under the microscope in Washington, where Congress is investigating how technology giants might have shaped the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Trump was locked out for just 11 minutes, and then, just as suddenly, he was back. Those watching found themselves unscathed – though some could not quite shake a sense of dread.
Trump himself got back to business as if nothing had happened, tweeting at 8:05 p.m.: "Great Tax Cut rollout today. The lobbyists are storming Capital Hill, but the Republicans will hold strong and do what is right for America!" He then fired off four more tweets, denouncing the Democratic National Committee and James Comey before inviting viewers to watch his interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News. Then, early Friday morning, he tweeted:
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
Back in the offices and homes of the nation, the people of Twitter could only sit back and reflect.
For better or for worse, the world seemed predictable again, and one user made his prediction bold.
"Man," Alex Zalben wrote, "in like nine months there's gonna be a ton of Trump Twitter blackout babies."