In a fresh dustup that may prove what critics of Facebook and Twitter have been saying for three years about their kowtowing to our king-president to avoid his wrath, President Trump has publicly threatened to punish Twitter and "strongly regulate" or entirely "close down" all social media after Twitter tried to fact-check him.
Trump is rampaging on his platform of choice, Twitter, again today, and he has been since Tuesday evening when he accused Twitter of both inhibiting his right to "FREE SPEECH" and "interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election" after it posted a fact-check link below a tweet he posted about mail-in ballots. Setting aside what most intelligent and rational people understand about this fit he's having — he's down in polls, he knows mail-in ballots threaten his reelection chances further and he hopes the coronavirus will make more Democrats and centrists stay at home in November — we all get that these threats are empty because he's addicted to Twitter, right? He'd rather die than shut them down and lose all his followers.
Here is how Twitter handled the situation regarding Trump's tweet about California's mail-in ballots: As the platform began doing last year, a link appeared below the tweet providing information and related stories that debunk what the contested tweet says — though this is the first time that Twitter has pushed back against one of Trump's lies, apparently as part of its efforts to police tweets aimed at voter suppression and misinformation.
Here's what pops up if you click on "get the facts":
And then Trump reacts, promising "Big action to follow!"
....Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
"Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices," Trump wrote today. "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."
But if Twitter's going to start fact-checking him now, let the floodgates open!
He's also concocted a fiction called OBAMAGATE — generally written in all caps — that he hopes will gain some traction among voters still on the fence about him. And perhaps Twitter will consider fact-checking that.
OBAMAGATE MAKES WATERGATE LOOK LIKE SMALL POTATOES!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Or the entirely debunked conspiracy theory he's pushing about journalist Joe Scarborough and an assistant who died 20 years ago of an undiagnosed heart condition. Or virtually anything he says daily about this or that news organization "failing" after they write something negative about him.
Here's a fun one: The Atlantic has multiple negative stories related to Trump on its website front page right now, but the president is most likely pissed about one: An opinion piece by Tom Nichols titled "Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President," which was published Monday. And here's what Trump had to spout about The Atlantic yesterday:
Great News: The boring but very nasty magazine, The Atlantic, is rapidly failing, going down the tubes, and has just been forced to announce it is laying off at least 20% of its staff in order to limp into the future. This is a tough time to be in the Fake News Business!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Twitter took a stand against lies in American politics last fall when it announced an end to all political advertising — a stance that CEO Jack Dorsey took in contrast to Facebook's stance that it would not fact-check political ads, no matter the obviousness of the lies therein. But Twitter wasn't making that much money from political ads to begin with, and critics were quick to point out that even the policy, as eventually written, was full of holes.
Putting up a measly fact-check link that none of Trump's loyal followers are going to trust is just about all that Twitter has in its toolbox at the moment, unfortunately. Going further than Twitter did — like removing Trump from the platform altogether, or deleting tweets that are baldfaced lies — is likely never going to happen. As The Atlantic writes today, "The problem is that Trump’s critics are looking to Dorsey to solve a problem that Twitter did not create... Twitter can surely do a better job of enforcing its own rules and flagging Trump’s worst statements... But a tech company can’t change who the president is."
As Giovanni Russonello writes in the New York Times' "On Politics" newsletter today, exactly no one should be surprised that Candidate Trump has reemerged in 2020, because he never really got supplanted by President Trump — there has been nothing presidential about this presidency.
"His pugilistic, freewheeling tone in the Oval Office has basically felt of a piece with his language as a candidate — far more than it has been in line with presidential tradition," Russonello says. But the fact is, he is the president, and that does give extra power to his words even when he's spouting ridiculous and/or fictional nonsense.
"This campaign season, Trump will be speaking from the bully pulpit of the Oval Office — but he may also be confronted with a news media and tech companies that are more willing to call him out on his inaccuracies," Russonello writes. "Whether that will make any difference in today’s choose-your-own-reality political age is an open question."
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