Speaking of honesty and Twitter, there’s news at this particular intersection. Twitter on Tuesday placed fact-checking language on two of Trump’s recent tweets concerning mail-in balloting.
The invasive blue links in the tweets take readers to a Twitter page that explains how seriously to take these statements. And the page’s text relies on a couple of Trump’s least favorite news sources: “These claims are unsubstantiated, according to CNN, Washington Post and others. Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud.”
Not surprisingly, then, Trump has spent the last day or so freaking out about Twitter on Twitter.
We’ve seen before how a delusional and poorly educated president claims powers that don’t reside in his office. During the coronavirus crisis, for instance, he has riffed about his supreme powers over the states, a stance that he refreshed last week when he insisted that houses of worship open again across the country. At one point, also on Twitter, Trump mused about pulling NBC’s broadcast license, a move that would be impossible because of the complication that NBC has no such thing. Individual TV stations do have licenses with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is an independent entity in any case.
So the menu of actions that Trump could effect on his own against Twitter is a short one, and among its top entries is . . . tweeting denunciations to his 80 million followers.
Another option for Trump would be to thank Twitter — for distributing his many false and misleading claims to such a broad audience, that is. Have a look at the latest update from The Post’s fact-checking crew. As of April 3, it logged 18,000 false or misleading claims. There are 3,308 such claims on Twitter, according to The Post’s analysis. Dale tells me that he has logged 348 false claims tweeted by Trump from July 8, 2019, through May 3.
All of which is to say that Twitter’s recent blue links amount to very little, very late. Like most other actors in the info-news-digital public square, Twitter wasn’t quite set up for a president with an audience in the tens of millions and a pathological inclination toward mendacity. News organizations weren’t either: They spent a significant chunk of the 2016 presidential campaign partnering with Trump to ensure maximum diffusion of his lies, in most cases by live broadcasts of his campaign rallies. During the March-April muck of coronavirus, they were still struggling with the competing imperatives of showing Trump in action and broadcasting accurate information — a trade-off presented in the form of Trump’s interminable task force briefings.
Twitter rules were made for a President Trump in that they don’t disallow lying. “Twitter’s purpose is to serve the public conversation. Violence, harassment and other similar types of behavior discourage people from expressing themselves, and ultimately diminish the value of global public conversation,” reads the preamble to the rules. “Our rules are to ensure all people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely.” In stopping short of banning lies, Twitter’s rules align to some degree with the law of the land, as the courts have held that the First Amendment protects some but not all falsehoods.
Until coronavirus came around, Twitter didn’t attach labels for misinformation. Bogus chatter about the virus actuated the company to introduce “new labels and warning messages that will provide additional context and information on some Tweets containing disputed or misleading information related to COVID-19.” In other words, this was about life and death.
Mail-in balloting is not a life-or-death proposition, though it’s mighty important. A Twitter rep told ABC News that the Trump balloting tweets “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”
“Additional context” — now there’s something that could be added to every one of Trump’s tweets.