Twitter, Truth, and Donald Trump

This week, Twitter provoked Donald Trump’s ire when, for the first time, it added a fact-check warning to a couple of his tweets. Trump had earlier falsely tweeted that mail-in voting was fraudulent and would cause rigged elections.

“We added a label to two @realDonaldTrump Tweets about California’s vote-by-mail plans as part of our efforts to enforce our civic integrity policy,” posted Twitter Safety. “We believe those Tweets could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.”

Twitter also posted this:

“What you need to know – Trump claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election.’ However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud. – Trump falsely claimed that California will send mail-in ballots to ‘anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there.’ In fact, only registered voters will receive ballots. – Five states already vote entirely by mail and all states offer some form of mail-in absentee voting, according to NBC News.”

Trump responded by accusing Twitter of election interference. “Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post…”

Holy projection, Batman! “Election interference” is Trump’s term for shining the light of truth on his actual attempted election interference.

Taking his cue from authoritarian rulers everywhere, Trump continued his tirade by threatening to shut down or at least heap regulations on social media outlets (namely, Twitter). Trump has already taken measures to silence other entities, such as science and the media, when they bring forth information that contradicts Trump’s version of reality. Now, In yet another demonstration of his efforts to squelch what he perceives as opposition, he is attacking Twitter for daring to fact check his tweets.

“Republicans feel that social media platforms totally silence conservative voices,” Trump tweeted later on Tuesday. “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!!!!”

What, exactly, does Trump mean by “silencing conservative voices”? It appears that he means “encouraging Twitter followers to check out the facts.”

If we focus on reality, truth hasn’t appeared to be a big factor in what Donald Trump and his associated “conservative voices” post and tweet. The accountability they want from social media outlets is not for the sake of truth, but rather for the sake of allowing Trump and his allies to post anything while restricting information—including factual information—that contradicts what they’ve said.

If anything, Twitter hasn’t gone far enough in its policies regarding the integrity of tweets. Its reaction to a recent Trump slanderfest, in fact, was quite different. Twitter has refrained from removing a series of Trump tweets that promote a conspiracy theory that MSNBC news host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough was guilty of murdering an employee (this was proven in court to be false). The widower of the deceased woman asked Twitter directly to remove the Tweets, but so far, at least in this matter, Twitter says that Trump’s tweets have not violated any laws.

Neither has Twitter, by acting on Trump’s mail-in voting tweets. For now, at least, despite his threats, Donald Trump is limited in his authority to shut down or suppress social media outlets.

“Trump would llke to shut them down because of the message. That’s something you can’t do,” said Herbert Hovenkamp, a University of Pennsylvania law professor. “Trump doesn’t have any authority to shut down a company that’s not breaking the law.”

Trump’s threats to squelch Twitter not only show his ignorance of the law, but also show that he hasn’t considered how else, if not via Twitter, he would exercise his off-the-rails communication strategy with his base.

Nevertheless, on Thursday, taking yet another cue from authoritarian leaders everywhere, Trump signed an executive order that could give the federal government oversight of political speech.

Ironically, as he signed it, Trump said, “We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers.”

Not only does Donald Trump refuse to examine his own words and actions, he seeks to smother any entity that attempts to do it for him.

In the standard version of “Land of the free and home of the brave,” “free” comes with responsibility, and “brave” comes with integrity. In Donald Trump’s version, “free” means “getting away with whatever you can” (but only if you’re a Trump ally) and “brave” only applies to those who see integrity as cowardice.

Donald Trump appears to believe that “freedom of speech” extends only to those who share his worldview, and he clearly views a “fact check” label as censorship. And though Twitter may not actually remove Trump’s tweets, we can hope that going forward, Twitter posts a “fact check” label every time Trump tweets a lie.

Trump takes on Twitter  |  ABC News  [2020-05-27]

Trump Threatens Social Media Companies After Twitter Fact Checks His Tweets  |  NBC Nightly News [2020-05-27]