Twitter started fact-checking Trump. Then Trump threatened to close it down

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
May 27, 2020

As Elizabeth Dwoskin reports for The Washington Post, Twitter has fact-checked President Trump for the first time. Trump had claimed on Twitter that mail-in ballots would be “substantially fraudulent.” His two tweets on the topic were labeled with a link inviting readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots” and directing them to resources stating that Trump’s claims are unsubstantiated. In response, Trump claimed that “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. 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.” Here are four key takeaways.

On the facts, Twitter is right and Trump is wrong

Trump claims that switching to mail-in ballots is going to lead to “a free for all” of cheating, forgery and ballot theft. This is not even slightly true. As Richard L. Hasen has noted, mail-in ballots are already quite widely used, and the available evidence shows there is only a negligible level of fraud.

Some have speculated that Trump is arguing against mail-in ballots because he believes they will benefit Democrats and hurt Republicans. Again, the political science evidence goes the other way. Writing for The Monkey Cage, Daniel M. Thompson and his colleagues find that mail-in ballots do not advantage either party, while Enrijeta Shino and her colleagues show that mail-in ballots for younger, minority and first-time voters are more likely to be invalidated.

The free speech rules work against Trump

Trump initially responded to Twitter’s action by claiming that “Twitter is completely STIFLING FREE SPEECH.” This claim misrepresents the actual situation. The First Amendment concerns government efforts to regulate free speech. But social media platforms are not public utilities. Instead, they are run by private-sector organizations, usually for profit. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, platform companies have fairly wide discretion either to remove content (if they see fit) or to keep it up. This leads to contestation over how they ought to use their discretion.

Read the full piece at The Washington Post