President Trump threatened to impose federal regulations on — or even shut down — social media platforms after Twitter added a fact-checking reply to his tweets about mail-in voting.
The threat came in the form of two tweets.
“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” wrote Trump, who as of Wednesday morning had a total of 48,811 tweets and retweets posted on his Twitter account. “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 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!!!!”
....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!!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
On Tuesday, Twitter added fact-check language to two of Trump’s posts that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud. “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” read a message below the tweets, linking to a fact-check page populated by links and summaries of news articles debunking the assertion.
In a statement, Twitter said Trump’s vote-by-mail tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.” While the company has previously flagged tweets conveying misinformation about the coronavirus, it has never before put warnings on tweets for any other reason. As numerous officials push for increased vote-by-mail ahead of November’s election due to fears that polling places could be dangerous during the pandemic, Trump has continually insisted the results would be illegitimate, despite the fact that many states already safely use the method.
Trump responded later that day by calling it election meddling and saying the company was stifling free speech, although the protections in the First Amendment have generally been held to forbid censorship by the government, not privately owned media or social media platforms. Last year, Trump’s Justice Department opened a broad antitrust investigation into big tech companies and threatened to expand the investigation “to any harms caused by online platforms that partially or completely fall outside the antitrust laws.” The initial investigation followed complaints by Trump against Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey that his @realDonaldTrump account had been losing Twitter followers.
In March, Politico reported that Attorney General William Barr, widely viewed as a staunch Trump loyalist, was taking personal direction of the antitrust probes of social media companies.
Last year, Facebook said it wasn’t removing an ad from the Trump campaign that contained lies about former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine. The previous month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Trump had a surprise meeting at the White House, which the president referred to as “nice.” Facebook announced a change in policy five days later: It would not fact-check or remove content by politicians even if the posts violate the company’s rules.
Facebook has drawn scrutiny for its staff, which includes a number of former conservative operatives, including the former lead digital strategist of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook’s executives had shut down a project to make the platform less divisive. One of those executives was Joel Kaplan, a former official in the George W. Bush White House who runs the company’s Washington office.
Trump’s comments also come a day after Twitter said it would not remove posts in which the president demanded an investigation of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough in the death of a young woman who died in his office in 2001. Lori Klausutis’s death was ruled an accident, and there is no evidence implicating Scarborough, who was a Florida congressman at the time. Her husband, Timothy Klausutis, wrote to Dorsey protesting Trump’s tweets, saying the president had “perverted” the memory of his late wife for political gain.
Twitter said it was “deeply sorry” but that it would not remove the posts, and it has not posted a fact check or disclaimer in reply.
At a Rose Garden press conference later Tuesday afternoon, Trump was asked why he chose to spread a debunked conspiracy theory. He responded by claiming that “a lot of people” share his views.
“Hopefully someday, people are going to find out,” Trump said. “It’s certainly a very suspicious situation. Very sad. Very sad and very suspicious.”
On Wednesday morning, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted, “I know Joe Scarborough. Joe is a friend of mine. I don't know T.J. Klausutis. Joe can weather vile, baseless accusations but T.J.? His heart is breaking. Enough already.”
Scarborough and his co-host and wife, Mika Brzezinski, gave Trump a welcome platform early in his presidential run, when few took his candidacy seriously, but have turned against him since he has been in office.
The president dismissed the letter from Klausutis’s husband, falsely suggesting that her family also wants the case reopened.
“I’m sure they ultimately want to get to the bottom of it,” the president said, noting that there is no statute of limitations for murder in the state of Florida.
“It’s a very serious situation,” Trump said.