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Trump threatens social media companies over fact-checked tweets

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US President Donald Trump has threatened to strictly regulate or shut down social media platforms entirely, after Twitter flagged two of his tweets promoting false claims on the platform for the first time.

On Tuesday, Twitter flagged two of Trump’s tweets claiming that postal voting was “fraudulent” and would lead to a “rigged election”. Twitter added a small notice reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots”, which links to a page of information - including news stories from trusted sources - debunking Trump’s false claims.

Facebook has not taken any action against the same claims posted by Trump on its main platform.

In response, Trump has repeated his previous accusations that social media companies have an anti-conservative political bias; that they are “stifling free speech”, and they attempted to prevent him winning the 2016 presidential election. Trump has now threatened all social media companies with strict regulation or a total shutdown.  

“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives [sic] voices,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “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.”

He added: “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. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”

It remains unclear what regulations - if any - Trump has planned for Twitter and other social media companies, there being no easy way for him to interfere with the operations of publicly traded, billion-dollar companies used by people all over the world.

Twitter has previously received criticism for declining to take action against Trump’s often incendiary activity on the platform, despite his tweets repeatedly breaching the site's own rules, such as by spreading disinformation and misinformation; directing personal abuse at individuals, and potentially inciting violence. Twitter has generally taken a stance that world leaders should be treated differently as it is in the public interest for there to be a public record of their statements.

However, pressure has been building in the past year from lawmakers, academics and activists concerned about social media platforms being abused in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. In October 2019, Twitter announced that it would ban all political advertising on the platform; that it would add warning labels to any politician’s tweets that breached its rules, and more recently experimented with a system for labelling misleading content.

The small fact-check notice attached to Trump’s tweets this week is less obtrusive than the tweet-sized orange flags shown in a mock-up shared in February.

Now that Twitter has flagged Trump’s false claims for the first time, the platform is under renewed pressure to take similar action against another set of recent tweets from Trump in which he repeated a demonstrably false conspiracy theory accusing a former congressman of murdering a woman who died in his office.

So far, Twitter has not indicated whether it will take any action against these tweets, saying in a statement that it is “deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family [of the murdered woman].”

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