Twitter is facing a growing backlash in the wake of Donald Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis as users accuse it of double standards in the way it polices those who wish death on others.

The filmmaker Ava DuVernay and the former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman were among thousands of Twitter users accusing the platform of failing to protect women and minority users from abuse.

Many people have tweeted messages to wish the president well, including his election opponent, Joe Biden, while others have expressed the opposite sentiment.

On Friday Twitter confirmed that users who wish death upon the president were violating its terms of use.

Its abusive behaviour policy prohibits users from “wishing or hoping serious harm on a person or group of people”.

“Tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed,” the company said in a tweet. It added that the breach would not “automatically mean suspension”.

The statement, which has been shared more than 18,000 times, has drawn criticism from many figures who said they themselves had been targeted with similar abuse but received no support from the platform.

Blackman, the author of the acclaimed Noughts & Crosses series, tweeted: “Weeks of death threats and serious threats against my family when I was children’s laureate [from 2013 to 2015] resulted in Twitter doing bugger all about it.”

Advertisement

Earlier, a Twitter spokesman told the Guardian that the policy had been in place since April and applied to all users, not just Trump.

DuVernay said: “Does this also go for Black and Brown women who have long been and continue to be harassed and threatened with assault and death on this platform or nah? I think no. Because I see those same accounts still up. Still causing harm. Your *anyone* is disingenuous.”

The football presenter and former England player Gary Lineker questioned whether the policy went far enough. “Forgive me for being a bit of a snowflake, but surely wishing serious harm, fatal disease or death on someone/anyone should automatically mean suspension,” he said.

A Twitter spokesperson said: “Our singular goal is to improve the health of the public conversation, including ensuring the safety of people who use our service. Abuse and harassment have no place on Twitter and we have policies in place – which apply to everyone, everywhere – that address abuse and harassment and hateful conduct. If we identify accounts that violate these rules, we will take enforcement action.”

A spokesperson told Motherboard that Twitter was suspending some users but would not act on every tweet.

Separately, an aide for Biden told the New York Times his campaign would take down adverts that were negative about Trump following news of his illness.