“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” the president tweeted Wednesday without providing evidence, adding that the companies should either be “strongly” regulated or shut down.
On Tuesday, Twitter hit Trump with a fact-check for the first time ever, for tweets the president wrote claiming that mail-in ballots are rife with fraud: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” the note below Trump’s tweet said.
Hours later, the president responded by accusing the company of “interfering” in the 2020 election, stifling free speech and using “fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post.”
Republicans have long rallied behind the idea that social media platforms stifle conservative free speech online, though experts say there’s no evidence bearing out the idea Silicon Valley is working behind the scenes to deliberately limit the reach of conservatives.
On the flip side, social media platforms have also faced backlash for their hands-off approach to combating misinformation; Twitter’s dramatic pivot on Tuesday to fact-check the president comes after years of mounting criticism as the company slowly tightened its policies on misleading information online.
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. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Last year, Twitter TWTR announced it would ban all political ads from its platform. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said then he believed that the spread of political messages “should be earned, not bought.” But the platform has struggled to come to terms with whether it should police misleading tweets from world leaders. Last year, Twitter responded to a request from Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) to suspend Trump’s account for violating the platform’s guidelines by maintaining world leaders don’t always have to follow its rules. In recent months, Twitter TWTR has ramped up its fact-checking operation in response to the coronavirus pandemic—but only after repeated calls to do so—flagging tweets that contain claims of a conspiracy behind the virus—like blaming billionaire Bill Gates and 5G technology.
On Tuesday, Twitter was at the center of a separate controversy surrounding Trump’s messages online. The widower of Lori Klausutis, an aide to Joe Scarborough when he was a member of Congress and who died suddenly in 2001, called on the platform to take down the president’s tweets baselessly accusing the MSNBC host of Morning Joe of having murdered her. As recently as this past weekend, Trump has continued to push a conspiracy theory on Twitter that Scarborough had had an affair with Klausutis and then murdered her. In a tweet posted earlier this month, the president called for an investigation of Scarborough and questioned whether he “got away with murder?”
In a statement responding to the Klausutis letter, a Twitter spokesperson said: “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements . . . are causing the family.” Changes are in the works to “expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward.”
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