- For the first time, a warning label has been added to misleading tweets posted from President Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
- The warning label includes a link to a new page debunking Trump claims about mail-in voting ballots.
- President Trump went on to blast Twitter for the move — on Twitter.
There are three certainties in life that we know will never change. The twin realities of death and taxes — those are the two everybody already understood — but let’s go ahead and add a third to the list: It’s that Twitter, President Trump’s favorite social network, is absolutely terrible at handling and responding to the vicissitudes, freakouts, line-crossing, white lies, half-truths, and outright falsehoods delivered with breathtaking speed by its most high-profile user. And the step the company took on Tuesday, adding a warning label for the first time to posts from President Trump’s Twitter account, only reinforces that fact.
A quick recap, for those of you not aware: On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted the following: “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.” Beneath that tweet, Twitter added a label in blue that reads: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”
If you click the label, you’re taken to this page, where you’ll find the actual debunking of Trump’s tweet, using this language:
Media Twitter, of course, exploded. And once headlines about this action from Twitter began to mount, President Trump then returned to — where else? — his Twitter account to lament this step taken by the social network as a perceived attempt at meddling in the upcoming presidential election.
To add still more frustrating nuance to this turn of events, all of the above cannot be understood outside of the context of yet another set of developments related to a completely different set of Trump tweets.
In recent days, the president also tweeted to his more than 80 million followers that MSNBC host and ex-congressman Joe Scarborough might have had something sinister to do with the death of a young staffer back in 2001 (even though the young woman in question, according to a letter her husband wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in recent days, actually suffered from an “undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work,” which is how she died).
Her husband wrote that letter to Dorsey begging him to remove the president’s tweets.
“I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain,” Timothy Klausutis, husband of the late Lori Klausutis, wrote in the letter, which was dated May 21 and which The New York Times published on Tuesday.
Let’s see if we can wade through all of this.
First, Twitter’s response to Mr. Klausutis’ letter is lame to the point of being offensive. “We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,” reads a statement from a Twitter spokesman. “We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.”
Translation: We feel your pain, but not enough to do anything about it right now.
Next, the social network has chosen today to, for the first time, kind of take an action against an altogether different set of Trump tweets — an action, such as it is, that will please no one and not really serve much of a purpose at all.
Not that this is a new debate inside Twitter, which has struggled for a while now when it comes to how to handle Trump’s tweets.
Some questions I have for Twitter, in light of the new warning labels:
- Why is the language in your “warning label” so anodyne? It’s so bland that I think an average person could conceivably scroll through their feed, see that language, and perhaps mistake the text for part of Trump’s own tweet, for crying out loud. It’s as if he’s saying — mail-in ballots are terrible, and click here to get the facts why. If you’re going to walk through this door of now putting a company stamp of disapproval on a tweet, don’t pull your punches or beat around the bush. Yes, I know the language is much clearer if you tap the link — the keyword being if you tap the link.
- Now that Twitter has walked through this door, if you don’t add these kinds of warning labels to tweets from politicians of both major parties, won’t it undercut the whole point of this?
- Are you going to now add warning labels to all tweets that contain white lies, or do the lies or misleading statements have to somehow be beyond the pale? I mention “all” such tweets, because, again, now that you’ve walked through this door, it seems to me that any tweet with a demonstrable misleading statement that does not merit the Twitter warning label carries tacit approval.
New York Times opinion columnist Kara Swisher has it exactly right, in her piece Tuesday calling for Twitter to “cleanse the Trump stain.” These kinds of tweets need to be deleted. The tech hippiedom that’s governed Twitter for the entirety of its existence — this kind of loose, we’ll-deal-with-things-as-they-arise approach to running the company, where the most serious problems are hemmed and hawed over endlessly — has gone on for way too long.