WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to shutter social media platforms after Twitter for the first time acted against his false tweets, prompting the enraged Republican to double down on unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories.
Trump will sign an executive order “pertaining to social media” on Thursday, aides to the president said, without offering more detail about its contents.
Twitter tagged two of his tweets in which he claimed that more mail-in voting would lead to what he called a “Rigged Election” this November.
There is no evidence that attempts are being made to rig the election, and under the tweets Twitter posted a link which read: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”
For years, Twitter has been accused of ignoring the president’s violation of platform rules with his daily, often hourly barrages of personal insults and inaccurate information sent to more than 80 million followers.
But Twitter’s slap on the wrist was enough to drive Trump into a tirade – on Twitter – in which he claimed that the political right in the United States is being censored.
“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,” he said.
He plunged right back into his narrative that an increase in mail-in ballots – seen in some states as vital for allowing people to avoid crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic – will undermine the election.
“It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots,” wrote Trump, whose reelection campaign has been knocked off track by the coronavirus crisis.
His torrent of angry tweets earned a top-10 trending hashtag: #TrumpMeltdown.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg also waded in to the row, telling Fox News that his social network – still the biggest in the world – has a different policy.
“I just believe strongly that Facebook should not be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said in a snippet of the interview posted online Wednesday by Fox.
“I think, in general, private companies, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey fired back on his own platform Wednesday night, saying that the website’s effort to point out misinformation did not make it an “arbiter of truth.”
“Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,” he tweeted.
He doubled down on the new policy, writing: “Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”
Kate Ruane, at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Trump has no power to regulate Twitter.
The constitution “clearly prohibits the president from taking any action to stop Twitter from pointing out his blatant lies about voting by mail,” she said.
For all his protests, Trump is a political giant on social media.
By contrast, his Democratic election opponent, Joe Biden, has only 5.5 million Twitter followers.
Social media suits Trump’s unorthodox communications style and his penchant for conspiracy theories, rumors and playground-style insults.
Now that he faces Biden, Barack Obama’s vice president, Trump is again using Twitter to attack his popular predecessor.
His murky claim that the Democrat was part of a “coup” attempt during the early days of his administration has a Twitter hashtag – #ObamaGate – that the president uses regularly.
The claim that Twitter is biased against conservatives fits the White House narrative that the billionaire president is still an outsider politician running against the elite.
The row is a useful smokescreen when Biden is homing in on widespread dissatisfaction with Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has left more than 100,000 Americans dead.
Polls consistently show Biden in a strong position, despite barely having left his home during weeks of social distancing measures – and his relatively meager social media presence.
An unrepentant Trump also resumed spreading a conspiracy theory Wednesday about a prominent television critic, Joe Scarborough, whom the president is trolling with accusations that he murdered a woman in 2001.
There has never been any evidence that Scarborough, a host on MSNBC, had anything to do with the death of Lori Klausutis, who was a staffer in his office when he was a Republican congressman.