Twitter took its first baby steps Tuesday to rein in President Donald Trump indiscriminately spewing misinformation across the internet by adding warning labels accompanied by links to fact checks to two of Trump’s recent tweets wildly alleging that efforts to bolster vote-by-mail programs during the pandemic amounted to sweeping electoral fraud. The move comes in the wake of social media companies taking a more proactive approach to regulating misinformation about the coronavirus on their platforms. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, Trump’s preferred medium for communication, has faced increasing public pressure to provide at least some modicum of oversight to Trump’s erroneous missives that have gotten wilder and potentially more harmful as the pressure of the pandemic and his wavering reelection bid mounts. In response to the move, Trump, as one might expect, went berserk on Twitter, alleging bias against conservatives and making an oblique threat to shut down the company.
“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning. “We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”
The difficulty with painstaking piecemeal regulation of Trump’s mad tweets is the president says the same misleading things over and over and over, often in slightly modified forms. Trump’s immediate response to the Twitter addenda to his tweets came Tuesday night when he essentially restated the very misinformation he’s pushed over the last weeks about mail-in voting in his attack on the company.
Like with every other damaging or unscrupulous thing Trump and his campaign have done in the past, the president is now repackaging those actions as something done to him, not by him. Now, it’s Twitter that tried to interfere in the election, it’s Hillary Clinton whom Russia wanted to win, and on and on.
Twitter’s warning labels will surely irk the president, but it seems unlikely it will undo the damage that his most noxious tweets inflict. There are still five months until the election, and the president’s half-cocked screeds will only get worse. Twitter, for its part, declined to go further in its reprimand of Trump by refusing to take down conspiracy theory tweets alleging foul play in the two-decade-old death of congressional staffer Lori Klausutis. Klausutis’ widowed husband recently wrote to Dorsey asking him to delete the tweets. “I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him—the memory of my dead wife,” Timothy Klausutis wrote. Twitter said it was “deeply sorry about the pain these statements” caused the family, but they did not violate the company’s terms of service and would not be removed.
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