The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Twitter keeps flagging Trump for disinformation because Trump keeps tweeting disinformation

A mobile phone placed on a U.S. flag displays tweets from President Trump on Nov. 5, with Twitter warnings that they may be incorrect. (Robyn Beck/AFP)

There are a lot of odd aspects to President Trump’s threat Tuesday evening to veto a defense-spending bill unless it includes a provision addressing social media companies. Why, for example, did Trump need to add an aesthetic evaluation of his own desk? Why should military funding depend on a snippet of the law that focuses on companies such as Facebook and Twitter?

The oddest part, though, is that Trump continues to either misunderstand or misrepresent Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects such companies from liability for content posted by their users. Trump, like many of his allies, instead thinks that the clause allows Twitter to unfairly censor his tweets and that repealing the clause will allow him to tweet whatever he wants.

Since Nov. 4, President Trump has repeatedly claimed his election loss as a result of massive fraud. The following is a round-up of his claims. (Video: The Washington Post)

In reality, Twitter is struggling with a challenge familiar to media broadly: How do you deal with a president who lies all the time?

Trump has increasingly railed against “big tech” in recent months and against Twitter, in particular, which he claims is biased against conservatives. Over the weekend, a staffer from his zombie presidential campaign highlighted a screenshot from Fox News, which he claimed showed just how biased Twitter is.

From Nov. 2 to Nov. 16, Twitter flagged 100 tweets from Trump and none from President-elect Joe Biden. How could that be, unless Twitter was staggeringly biased against Trump?

Well, consider this similar graphic, contrasting the number of penalty minutes accrued in National Hockey League games by longtime NHL goon Bob Probert and actor George Clooney.

Probert spent 55 hours in the penalty box and Clooney spent zero? How does that reveal anything except that NHL referees are hopelessly biased against Probert and for Clooney?

Perhaps there’s another explanation. Perhaps Clooney doesn’t play the same game as Probert did. By extension, maybe Trump’s tweets are flagged and Biden’s aren’t because Trump constantly makes false claims or retweets disinformation while Biden doesn’t.

Using data provided to The Post by, we looked at every Trump tweet from the period from Nov. 4 to the end of November. On the chart below, all of Trump’s tweets about the election are in purple. The tweets flagged by Twitter are indicated with black circles.

What sorts of tweets are flagged? Ones like this:

This is a nonsense turducken, a false claim from a disreputable source stuck into a Trump tweet that layers on its own falsehood. The claims about Dominion voting machines are false and come via Sidney Powell, an attorney considered dubious enough that Trump booted her from his legal team. Trump nonetheless elevates this, adding on a claim that he won the state of Michigan, which he lost by more than 150,000 votes. It’s misinformation within misinformation — and Twitter flags it as such.

From Nov. 4 until the end of the month, Trump tweeted more than 750 times, averaging a tweet an hour. Of those tweets, more than two-thirds were about the election or his claims of “fraud.” Forty percent of those tweets — more than a quarter of all of his tweets — were flagged by Twitter as erroneous.

A review of the tweets (which can be seen at the website) makes clear that Trump was simply throwing out nonsense day after day. Scroll back to the period right after the election, and you get things like this:

Georgia has since completed an audit and a recount of the ballots cast. Trump did not win. So instead of praising Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, Trump now instead attacks him as being complicit in some vast unproved conspiracy. Over and over, it’s the same pattern: Trump makes an obviously false claim, it is never substantiated, and he changes what he’s claiming.

It’s worth noting that Twitter’s flags of Trump’s tweets are milquetoast, at best. There have been times when the full content of a tweet is obscured, but generally the social media company simply applies a docile “𝖺𝗁𝖾𝗆, 𝗍𝗁𝗂𝗌 𝗆𝖺𝗒 𝗇𝗈𝗍 𝖻𝖾 𝖾𝗇𝗍𝗂𝗋𝖾𝗅𝗒 𝗍𝗋𝗎𝖾 𝖿𝗒𝗂” warning. It is quite literally the least the company can do to combat the president’s efforts to mislead the public.

This, traditionally, has been the goal of the sorts of pressure campaigns that in recent months have meant forcing Twitter and Facebook executives to march up to Capitol Hill for hearings. The intent is to get the companies to police themselves in ways that don’t conflict with or interrupt what political actors want to do. Trump, though, seems to want to go further, to use his power to get the companies to do what he wants.

It’s akin to his lashing out at a reporter during a brief news conference on Thanksgiving Day.

“I’m the president of the United States,” he told Jeff Mason of Reuters. “Don’t ever talk to the president that way.”

This haughty presumption of his own power is similar to what he wants from Twitter. How dare it declare that his false claims are false? Where does it get the nerve?

The issue for Trump is never that he should be open and forthright with the public. It is, instead, that he should never be constrained from not doing so, however weakly.