DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Ahead of the 2020 election, Big Tech companies are trying to stop the spread of misinformation on their platforms. But what do you do when that misinformation is coming from the president? For weeks, President Trump has claimed without evidence that mail-in voting is full of fraud and that Democrats are trying to rig the election. For the first time, Twitter took action yesterday against the president, adding links to fact checks on two of the president's tweets.
This morning, President Trump - well, he took to Twitter again to say, quote, "Republicans feel that social media platforms totally silence conservative voices. We will strongly regulate or close them down before we can ever allow this to happen," end quote.
NPR's Bobby Allyn has been covering this. We spoke earlier, and I asked Bobby to explain the tweets that prompted Twitter to act.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: So Trump promoted a conspiracy theory that voting by mail is just full of fraud. It's not the first time he's made that claim. But yesterday, it gained a lot of attention because Twitter took action. And again, this is a baseless claim. There's no evidence to back it up. And Twitter, for the first time, put a label on the tweet saying as much. It's a blue exclamation point, and it directs readers to find out the facts about mail-in voting. And it offers a link. You can click the link, and you're sent to reliable news coverage about the issue.
GREENE: Well, I guess the big question I have is, why now? I mean, this is not the first time the president has tweeted something that fact-checkers just jumped on and said was just not true.
ALLYN: Yeah. So the action really illustrates a major shift at Twitter. You know, earlier this month, Twitter made a big announcement that it was going to start basically policing misinformation and disputed claims and unverified tweets about the coronavirus and that it would label some of those tweets regardless of the speaker. This is a major shift because for a long time, Twitter said if you're a world leader, like President Trump, Twitter would take a hands-off approach to tweets. And that garnered, you know, widespread criticism.
So this is basically Twitter making good on its promise that no matter who you are, if you say something on Twitter that is unproven, Twitter will take action by slapping a warning label on it. And that's exactly what happened with Trump yesterday.
I talked to David Kay. He is a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and he specializes in freedom of expression issues.
DAVID KAY: If they don't respond to either disinformation or extremism or whatever it might be, they know that they're going to face some very serious regulation that's going to influence their ability to - really to maintain their platforms the way that they want.
GREENE: But I mean, Bobby, how does a company like Twitter pick and choose? I mean, we should say this also comes at a time when the president has been sending out these false tweets about the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough that's gotten a lot of attention.
ALLYN: Yeah. It's hard to talk about this move by Twitter without talking about that. So the backstory here is Scarborough, who is a former GOP congressman, has often sparred with the president. In a recent tweet, Trump falsely linked Scarborough to the 2001 death of a woman who once worked for Scarborough. The president's tweet was roundly criticized. The conservative-leaning editorial board of The Wall Street Journal was shocked by it. They wrote it shows Trump debasing his office. The widower of the woman who died pleaded with Twitter to remove the post, but Twitter has refused.
So the growing pressure for Twitter to do something about the Scarborough tweet came on the heels of Twitter placing a disclaimer on the mail-in voting tweet, perhaps as a way to relieve some of that pressure for deciding not to act on the Scarborough post.
GREENE: So Bobby, tell me about how the president is responding to all of this.
ALLYN: The president, fittingly enough, took to Twitter and, you know, basically said that Twitter was interfering in the 2020 presidential election, which is quite the claim, and also said that Twitter was stifling his free speech. A campaign manager for Trump said the move shows Silicon Valley is trying to get in the way of Trump getting his message out to voters.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Bobby Allyn. Bobby, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
ALLYN: Sure. Thanks, David.
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