On Tuesday, Timothy J. Klausutis, the widower of a former staffer for Joe Scarborough, requested that Twitter remove a tweet from President Trump baselessly accusing the MSNBC host and former congressman of potentially killing his wife back in 2001. Throughout the day, Klausutis was joined in his call by prominent voices — including former vice-president Joe Biden — as Trump and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended his missive. As the controversy swirled, Twitter responded by flagging an entirely different Trump tweet.
The president’s favorite online platform marked a tweet of his from Tuesday morning with a “get the facts” link below a message casting doubt on the security of mail-in ballots. “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent,” Trump tweeted, despite the fact that 45 states already allow the type of voting that the president is warning of. Under the tweet, a button reads: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and links to a CNN article with the headline “Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.”
While the platform intended to provide accurate information on voting by mail — a common practice made all the more essential in a pandemic — its way of doing so raised immediate practical concerns. Bloomberg social-media reporter Sarah Frier noted that Twitter’s message could be misconstrued as a “warning about mail-in ballots,” not the accuracy of Trump’s message. Another obvious question involves how often the platform will fact-check a president who’s frequently willing to ignore the truth; more concerning will be the potential implication that any Trump tweet that is not flagged as misinformation is fully accurate.
Perhaps the most obvious ramification — the president will accuse Twitter of bias — began playing out immediately. Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, provided a statement shortly after the clarification went up:
We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters. Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility. There are many reasons the Trump campaign pulled all our advertising from Twitter months ago, and their clear political bias is one of them.
Trump, meanwhile, made the first of what will certainly be many comments on the action: