Trump vs Twitter: US President threatens to shut down social mediaby Chidanand Rajghatta
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to shut down social media after Twitter for the first time censured him mildly, adding a fact check notification to two of his tweets in which the President made unsubstantiated claimed about widespread mail-in voting fraud in US elections.
The mild reprimand from Twitter enraged Trump, who first accused the platform of “interfering in the 2020 Presidential election” because it fact-checked him. He then accused the platform of “completely stifling free speech,” which, he warned, “I, as President, will not allow it to happen.”
Amid taunts and ridicule from critics who reminded him that free speech was guaranteed by the Constitution and not by the government or the President, and that Twitter was a private company that was not obliged to broadcast propaganda and lies, Trump ramped up his threat on Wednesday morning, warning, “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.”
“We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that ... 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!!!!” he added.
“Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!” Trump tweeted three hours later, without specifying what the action would be.
The immediate issue that led to Trump targeting Twitter was a pair of tweets on Tuesday in which the President raised the issue of potential voter fraud after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an effort to expand mail-in voting in California during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone... ....living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. That will be followed up with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!” Trump said in a pair of tweets that Twitter found questionable.
“Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” the platform said in a fact-check alert it appended to the President’s tweets, setting off a firestorm.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to "a Rigged Election," even though there is no study showing it this to be true, and he himself has voted via mail-in ballot. His claim that California will send mail-in ballots to "anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there" was also false because only registered voters will receive ballots. Five other states – mostly Democratic but also Republican leaning Utah - already vote by mail and all states offer some form of mail-in absentee voting.
But Trump is evidently concerned that mail-in voting will lead to his defeat, and only in-person voting - which analysts say is a method that his base, which is less concerned about the coronavirus, will embrace - can ensure his victory. Trump has previously suggested quite candidly that a low-turnout will be an advantage to him and a high voting percentage will be detrimental.
He has also claimed that he lost the popular vote in the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton (by a massive 2.85 million votes) because of many illegal votes even though no study or survey has borne out the claim. In fact, some political activists, notably Michael Moore, have said that Trump could lose the popular vote by 5 million in 2020 and still win a second term on the basis of an electoral college victory from thinly-populated white majority states in Middle America that have a demographically disproportionate electoral votes weightage that decide the winner.
Even ahead of the spat over mail-in voting, Twitter had been boiling over Trump’s insinuation that former Congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was involved in the murder of an intern in 2003. The intern’s husband had pleaded with Twitter to stop the President from spreading the baseless conspiracy, but Trump, ostensibly wanting to settle scores with Scarborough, a trenchant critic, was relentless in promoting the rumor, suggesting the re-opening of the “cold case” involving a man he has repeatedly called “Psycho Joe.”
As the spat got uglier, liberal activists on Twitter generated a hashtag #JusticeforCarolyn, claiming falsely that Trump too had murdered someone named Carolyn Gombell who he had gotten pregnant, just to prove the point that social media platform would be used to propagate falsehoods and denigrate a person’s character. Trump loyalists meanwhile unearthed tweets by a Twitter executive in charge of fact-checking in which he referred to Nazis in the Trump White House and called Trump-supporting Middle America states "racist" to prove their point that the platform has a liberal bias.