Twitter uses fact-checking feature on Trump tweets for the first time

27 May 2020318 Views

Donald Trump. Image: actionsports/Depositphotos

Donald Trump has accused Twitter of ‘interfering’ in the 2020 presidential election after the social media platform put a fact-checking label on two of his recent tweets.

On Tuesday (26 May), Twitter used its new fact-checking feature on two of Donald Trump’s tweets. Earlier this month, Twitter said it was introducing new labels and warning messages that will provide additional context and information to “limit the spread of potentially harmful and misleading content” about Covid-19.

But Twitter intervened when the US president claimed that mail-in ballots are “substantially fraudulent”, suggesting that ballots will be forged and illegally printed out, leading to a “rigged election”.

Under Trump’s two tweets about mail-in ballots, Twitter added a warning and linked to a page that described Trump’s claims as “unsubstantiated”. It added that fact checkers said there is “no evidence” that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud, and clarified that only registered voters will receive ballots, contrary to what Trump suggested.

Image of Donald Trump's tweet, with the fact-checking warning at the bottom.

Screenshot: Twitter.com/realDonaldTrump

Twitter’s effort to fact-check the tweet has been supported by some experts. MIT cognitive science professor David Rand told Buzzfeed News: “I think it is really good that Twitter did this.

“It’s essential for them to fact-check as many tweets as possible, and in particular to fact-check tweets from very influential accounts like Trump. Otherwise, a lack of warning on Trump tweets may be seen by many as an indication that the tweets have actually been verified.”

Jason McDaniel, professor of political science at San Francisco State University, added that while voter fraud “almost never occurs”, there is research suggesting that Republicans are more worried about voter fraud than Democrats.

“Trump’s reckless allegations are designed to inflame those fears, and to further erode American’s trust in the electoral process,” McDaniel said. “I am glad to see news media and organisations like Twitter push back against Trump’s falsehoods.”

The response from Trump

After Twitter flagged the tweets, Trump responded by accusing the social media platform of “interfering in the 2020 presidential election”.

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Although Twitter did not remove Trump’s tweets, he wrote: “Twitter is completely stifling free speech, and I, as president, will not allow it to happen.”

“Republicans feel that social media platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” Trump wrote in a later tweet. “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.”

Brad Parscale, head of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, added in a statement: “We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with president Trump getting his message through to voters.

“Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.”

Providing ‘additional context’

Commenting on the situation, a spokesperson for Twitter said: “These tweets contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labelled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”

Recently, the US president has been criticised for tweeting unfounded conspiracy theories about the of death of Lori Klausutis 20 years ago while she was working for former congressman Joe Scarborough, who is now a US news host. Despite receiving a letter regarding the tweets from her husband, Timothy Klausutis, Twitter refused to take down Trump’s tweets on the subject.

In the past, Twitter has faced criticism for not holding Trump accountable to the same standards as other Twitter users, set out by the company’s guidelines.

Donald Trump. Image: actionsports/Depositphotos

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com