In Brief

Twitter fact checks Donald Trump

San Francisco

27 May 2020

In 2019, Twitter's chief executive Jack Dorsey claimed that the social media company was not afraid to act against Donald Trump's use of its platform to bully or mislead. If Trump posted something that violated Twitter's policies, Dorsey told the Huffpost, “we’d certainly talk about it.”

Now, Twitter seems to have finally acted on Dorsey's promise, after years of criticism that it has done nothing to curb Trump's mendacious use of the platform. On Tuesday, the social media company added links labelled “get the facts” to two of Trump's tweets in which he claimed mail-in ballots would cause the November 2020 presidential election to be “rigged”.

The links appeared at the bottom of Trump's tweets in blue lettering, and led through to a CNN story that said Trump's claims were unsubstantiated, as well as a set of Twitter-compiled bullet points rebutting the inaccuracies.

The addition of the fact check is a minor addition, but represents a significant shift in user experience by placing a check on Trump's ability to communicate with his electoral base in an undiluted, unmoderated fashion.

A Twitter spokesperson said that Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context.”

Trump railed against the decision on Twitter's platform, writing: “.@Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. 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.... Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”

Twitter has previously removed tweets from the Brazilian and Venezuelan presidents Jair Bolsonaro and Nicolás Maduro, in which they promoted unproven cures for coronavirus, but has been reluctant to tackle Trump, arguing that his use of social media did not violate its terms of service.

The change in tack seems to have come about following a media storm that emerged as a result of a series of false conspiracy theories that Trump posted surrounding the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis. Klausutis died from complications resulting from an undiagnosed heart condition while working for the then Florida congressman Joe Scarborough, with whom Trump is presently feuding.

The widower of Klausutis had written to Dorsey calling for Twitter to delete the “horrifying lies” that Trump had posted on the platform. While Twitter said that it was “deeply sorry about the pain these statements” had caused, it would not delete the Tweets because they did not violate its policies.

The decision to moderate Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots, however, seems an acknowledgment of the scrutiny that Twitter has been placed under as a result of Trump's use of the service. If the platform continues to append qualifying information to Trump's Tweets, it may represent a significant barrier to the directness of communication for which Trump employs social media.