Trump threatens to 'close down' social media after tweets taggedby Sebastian Smith (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 an early morning 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.
- Pet conspiracy theory -
An unrepentant Trump also resumed spreading a conspiracy theory about a prominent television critic, Joe Scarborough, whom the president is trolling with accusations that he murdered a woman in 2001.
"Psycho Joe Scarborough is rattled, not only by his bad ratings but all of the things and facts that are coming out on the internet about opening a Cold Case," Trump tweeted.
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.
Investigators determined that she died after hitting her head during a fall, triggered by an abnormal heart rhythm.
However, the rumor has been pushed for years and Trump is its latest and most prominent promoter, refusing to stop even after Klausutis' widower made an impassioned appeal for Twitter to halt the "vicious lie."
Twitter said in a statement that it was "deeply sorry" for the family's pain, but did not take any action.
- Election politics -
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.
And for all his protests, Trump is a political giant on social media.
His campaign takes pride in its enormous presence on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms that are tied into an unprecedented level of funding and data collection.
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.
Before being elected in 2016, Trump built his political brand by supporting the "birther" lie that Barack Obama, America's first black president, was not born in the United States and therefore was not eligible to be president.
Now that he faces Biden, Obama's vice president, Trump is again using Twitter to attack the popular Obama.
Trump's 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.
On Fox News, the powerful television network that openly supports Trump, contributor Lisa Boothe said the Democrats' goal was to "shut down his unfiltered access to 80.3 million Americans."
The row is also 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.