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

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

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:

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate