Twitter has put a fact-check warning on some of Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time, marking an escalation in tensions between the Silicon Valley company and its most famous user.
The social media network on Tuesday added the label to two tweets in which Mr Trump — who has battled publicly with state governors who want to encourage postal voting as a way to allow more people to vote during the coronavirus pandemic — falsely claimed that mail-in ballots were “fraudulent” and would lead to “a rigged election”.
A link now appears beneath the tweets reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots”, which directs users to a page with news articles, tweets and a fact box that suggest the claim is unsubstantiated.
The move comes six months ahead of the US presidential election and marks the first time Twitter has sought to check the president’s use of the platform to broadcast controversial statements. The move drew an immediate pushback from Mr Trump and his re-election campaign.
“Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots . . . is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” he added.
On Wednesday morning, he issued a further threat to the future of the platform.
“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 happen again.”
Brad Parscale, the head of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, accused Twitter of showing “clear political bias”, adding: “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.”
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.”
The action came following a weekend of political controversy surrounding Mr Trump’s tweets — primarily over his promotion of an unfounded conspiracy theory about the death of a former staffer of Joe Scarborough, the former Republican member of Congress turned television host and critic of Mr Trump.
Twitter has refused to take down the president’s tweets on that subject, despite receiving a letter from Timothy Klausutis, the bereaved husband of the former staffer, imploring the company to do so.
The company has faced longstanding problems with the president. It has been criticised for failing to crack down on tweets from the president that appeared to violate its guidelines, while Mr Trump and other conservative figures have accused the platform of censorship.
Last year, Twitter announced it would attach warnings to tweets from prominent political leaders if they were deemed to break the company’s policies on threats and harassment. It was criticised for not doing so in January, however, after Mr Trump tweeted that Democratic congressman Adam Schiff had “not paid the price, yet” for leading the impeachment inquiry against the president.
Tuesday’s decision was “in line” with measures announced by the company earlier this month to add labels containing additional context to “disputed or misleading” coronavirus-related claims, as well as other confusing claims, the Twitter spokesperson said.
Earlier this month, Mr Trump said he would cut off federal funding from Michigan and Nevada if the Democratic governors in both states went ahead with plans to encourage mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Election strategists have long believed that postal voting helps Democrats, whose voters have tended to be less engaged and less likely to turn out. However, recent studies suggest that has now reversed thanks to the changing nature of both parties’ electorates.