Twitter is a cesspool of lies and misinformation, and perhaps no one is a greater producer of dumb tweets than Donald Trump. His every tweet makes news, no matter how inane or absurd. After Trump repeatedly tweeted conspiracy theories implicating MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough of murdering his former intern Lori Klausutis, many—including Klausutis’ widow—demanded Twitter remove the posts.
Twitter wasn’t ready to delete tweets or remove Trump from Twitter. Instead, they took a feckless half-measure.
For the first time, Twitter has put a fact-checking warning on a tweet from President Trump because it contains "misleading information about the voting process," a company spokesman says. https://t.co/AbCboNIfWi
— NPR (@NPR) May 27, 2020
Fact-checking Trump’s tweets seems like a smart thing to do. He uses the platform to lie constantly for personal and political gain. Providing real, contextual information on conspiracy theories (especially about mail-in voter fraud) is good, especially in an election year. But adding a fact-check link doesn’t stop the misinformation from spreading—it just offers a plausible alternative for what the president is claiming to be true.
Providing a fact-check doesn’t cut through the Trump bias in either direction. People who know Trump’s full of crap will cite the fact check link as proof he’s lying; those who choose to believe Trump will point to the link as proof of bias against him. And it’s not exactly encouraging that Twitter—the company infamous for doing almost nothing about white supremacists and other extremists on its site—is the arbiter of truth on its platform. Oftentimes those charged with fact-checking (see: Kessler, Glenn) let their own biases seep into their work, exaggerating some things and massively downplaying others.
I'm sorry, I don't want this guy to be in charge of making the final call on what is and isn't deserving of a "fact check" warning pic.twitter.com/4DBtoICFCj
— ☀️👀 (@zei_squirrel) May 27, 2020
On Wednesday morning, Trump threatened to “restrict all social media” in response to Twitter’s fact-checking. It’s the perfect Trump response, at once demonstrating his enormous personal pettiness and how useless fact-checking him really is. It also reminded us that Twitter is opening the door for every dork to start demanding people they don’t like to be fact-checked.
Twitter’s only plausible (and responsible) move is to ban Trump from the platform. But those clamoring for Trump’s Twitter removal don’t seem to realize how dumb and unrealistic that demand actually is. It would be terrible for business and open the platform up to the same attacks as fact-checking. They’re better off assuming all of Trump’s Twitter is garbage that will exist in perpetuity and stop caring about it altogether.