How Twitter Botched Its Fact-Check of Trump’s Lies

Rather than correct a false murder conspiracy, the company opted to start a political fight.

Oliver Contreras/ZUMA

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Facing widespread condemnation for not removing President Trump’s tweets falsely accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of murder, Twitter finally took action. On Wednesday, the company slapped disclaimer links onto two of Trump’s tweets, the first time it has pushed back on the misinformation that regularly flows from the president’s account.

But the tweets in question had nothing to do with the debunked conspiracy theories surrounding Scarborough and his late congressional aide, who in 2001 died after suffering a fall from an undiagnosed heart condition. Instead, the ignominious honor belonged to Trump’s false claims that mail-in voting would lead to rampant voter fraud.

The move drew more questions than praise. Why not simply remove the tweets pushing a vile murder conspiracy, as the widower of Scarborough’s late staffer pleaded in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey? Even top Republicans, who have remained silent about Trump’s smears against Scarborough, would have been unlikely to object to the removal of accusations so clearly false and defamatory. Why instead wade into a more politically divisive territory such as mail-in voting practices? 

Predictably, within minutes of Twitter’s actions, Trump bellowed, accusing the social media giant of attempting to interfere in the fast-approaching presidential election. Soon, his family members, congressional allies, and White House staff joined in perverse delight. By Thursday morning, Trump was threatening to shut down social media companies.

It’s not clear how Twitter intends to move forward with its disclaimer policy. For now, it seems pretty untenable, considering Trump’s entire social media presence is propped up by falsehoods. It also doesn’t appear to have chastened the president, who on Thursday morning tweeted:

FACT:

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