Twitter rolled out a fact-check feature on tweets regarding mail-in voting ballots from President Donald Trump Tuesday, drawing the president's ire and eliciting a two-tweet tirade against the social media giant by Trump.
On Tuesday, Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed,” among other things. Under the tweets, there is now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a Twitter “moments” page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.
When clicking on the link, Twitter users are brought to a page explaining that the president made an unsubstantiated claim regarding voter fraud. The page also provides a “What you need to know” section, which details how fact-checkers have found no evidence of voter fraud being linked to mail-in ballots, as well as clarification regarding other misinformation regarding mail ballots.
Scrolling further down the page, quotes from reputable news outlets like CNN and the Washington Post are featured, as well as tweets from verified journalists regarding Trump’s claims about voter fraud.
The new feature only appears to be available on Trump’s recent tweet regarding alleged voter fraud.
After the feature was rolled out to Trump's tweet, the president tweeted twice, accusing Twitter of "interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election." Trump went on to tweet an allegation that, "Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!"
It was not immediately clear under what authority Trump could stop the social media platform from fact-checking his tweets.
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Over the weekend, the president also sent out tweets calling into question the legality of mail-in-ballots. The storm of tweets followed the president’s Facebook and Twitter posts last week that wrongly claimed Michigan’s secretary of ptate mailed ballots to 7.7 million registered voters. Trump later deleted the tweet and posted an edited version that still threatened to hold up federal funds.
Even prior to his election and inauguration, Twitter was a popular platform for the president to share his thoughts and opinions, often lashing out at leaders, groups and celebrities he disagrees with or believes have wronged him.
But Trump’s relationship with Twitter is somewhat complicated, as the president has regularly engaged in behavior that many believe to be in violation of Twitter’s rules and conduct.
Trump ihas long pushed the limits of Twitter's attempts to deal with national leaders who spread misinformation and engage in personal abuse, including a recent barrage of baseless tweets suggesting that a television host he has feuded with committed murder.
The husband of a woman who died by accident two decades ago in an office of then-GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough demanded in a letter that Twitter remove the president’s tweets suggesting Scarborough, now a fierce Trump critic, killed her.
“My request is simple: Please delete these tweets,” Timothy J. Klausutis wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
The body of Lori Kaye Klausutis, 28, was found in Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach, Florida, congressional office on July 20, 2001. Trump has repeatedly tried to implicate Scarborough, a host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, in the death even though Scarborough was in Washington, not Florida, at the time.
It's just one of the latest instances in which the president has blown past Twitter's half-hearted attempts to enforce rules intended to promote civility and “healthy” conversation on its most prominent user. Trump frequently amplifies misinformation, spreads abuse and uses his pulpit to attack private citizens and public figures alike, but has never faced Twitter sanctions on his account.
Klausutis wrote in his letter that he has struggled to move on with his life due to the ongoing “bile and misinformation” spread about his wife on the platform, most recently by Trump. His wife continues to be the subject of conspiracy theories 20 years after her death.
Klausutis said in the letter, sent last week, that his wife had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. He called her death “the single most painful thing that I have ever had to deal with" and said he feels a marital obligation to protect her memory amid “a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died.”
Trump's tweets violate Twitter’s community rules and terms of service, he said. “An ordinary user like me would be banished,” he wrote.
There is no mystery to the death of Lori Klausutis. Medical officials ruled that the aide, who had a heart condition and told friends hours earlier that she wasn’t feeling well, had fainted and hit her head. Foul play was not suspected.
Trump, however tweeted this month: “When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!”
He echoed that “cold case” allegation in a new tweet on Tuesday, and in a White House press conference where he was asked about his tweets by reporters.
In general, Twitter has taken a hands-off approach to political leaders, contending that publishing controversial tweets from politicians helps hold them accountable and encourages discussion. Last year, it said it would consider slapping warning labels on some tweets by world leaders, noting that such individuals rules “aren’t entirely” above the rules.
Mail-in ballots, in particular, will likely be a popular voting mechanism for the 2020 election as the coronavirus pandemic, which health officials believe will make a resurgence in the fall, will likely keep many voters at home.
Twitter's fact-check move comes after years in which the company has declined to apply its community guidelines and other rules of the road to the 45th U.S. president. It’s too soon to tell whether this action represents a turning point for Twitter in its treatment of Trump. But the warning labels suggest that the president has finally crossed a line that the company was not willing to move for him.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.