Advertisement

Trump threatens social media after Twitter fact checks him

President Trump speaks in the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday.
President Trump speaks in the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump threatened to regulate or shutter social media companies — a warning apparently aimed at Twitter after it began fact checking his tweets.

In a pair of tweets Wednesday morning, Trump accused social media sites of trying to silence conservative voices and need to change course or face action.

It is questionable whether Trump has any authority to shut down social media networks, which are run by publicly traded companies and used by billions of people all over the world. Such measures would require action by Congress or the Federal Communications Commission.

“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 Wednesday. In a second tweet, he added: “Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country.”

Advertisement

He didn’t cite any platforms by name, but it was plainly a response after Twitter added a fact-check label to earlier Trump tweets that made unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting. It’s the first time Twitter has taken action on Trump’s posts for being misleading.

That move came after a widower asked Twitter to delete Trump’s tweets alleging, without evidence, a conspiracy theory that his late wife had been killed by cable news host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. Twitter hasn’t taken action on those tweets.

Twitter shares fell 1.65% in early trading in New York after Trump’s tweet. Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

Social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been swept up in recent years in a broader backlash against tech in Washington, state capitals and even Europe.

Advertisement

Trump has little authority to shut the businesses, which are also central to his re-election campaign and communications strategy with the public. But they already face a range of potential regulations.

White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, sidestepped questions of what measures Trump may take. She said social media helps conservatives skirt the mainstream news media.

“The president’s saying please stop suppressing conservative voices,” she said, before criticizing Twitter’s fact check.

Congress is looking to develop a privacy law that would create more limits around how the companies can use data and what responsibilities they have to consumers regarding that information. The companies are already being regulated under California’s strict new statute on data privacy.

Advertisement

Lawmakers from both parties in Washington and the Justice Department are also weighing proposed changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is prized by online platforms because it protects them from lawsuits for content posted by third parties. Some conservatives have attacked the provision for enabling what they see as the silencing of users’ statements by the companies. The allegations have ramped up during the Trump administration, as the president and his supporters have occasionally clashed with platforms that they nonetheless rely on to spread their messages and grow their following.

While the companies largely deny that they are biased and say they have focused on shutting down posts and users engaged in egregious conduct such as threats or spreading harmful misinformation, the companies are generally able to set the rules for how their private platforms are run and publish views without government pressure.

In addition to questions about privacy and content, Facebook and Google are also the targets of wide-ranging antitrust probes by federal and state authorities. Under Trump, the Justice Department, which is among those investigating both companies, has faced allegations that its actions have been politically motivated. The most significant outcome of an investigation, however, such as proposed breakup of the companies, would have to be approved by a court.

A congressional panel is also probing competition issues in the tech sector, focusing Facebook, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon.com and Apple, but not Twitter. It aims to recommend new laws.


Advertisement