UPDATE, 5/28/20, 5:45pm ET: President Donald Trump signed an executive order about social media on May 28, one day after he threatened to “close down” social media platforms. The order, which is legally dubious, is designed to crack down on “censorship” by social media sites — presumably like Twitter, which placed a fact-checking label on two of his May 26 tweets. ““We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers,” Trump said before signing the document in the Oval Office.
ORIGINAL: President Donald Trump threatened on May 27 that he would shutter social media sites the day after Twitter, for the first time, fact-checked two of his tweets. The tweets, specifically, were erroneous claims about supposed widespread mail-in voting fraud. “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices,” Trump, 73, wrote, not naming the platforms. “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. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”
Trump has been rallying against the cries for easier mail-in voting procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Voter rights organizations, including Michelle Obama‘s When We All Vote, argue that it’s a safer alternative to forcing citizens to head to the polls, where social-distancing can be difficult, as seen at the Wisconsin primary. The president is arguing, falsely, that mail-in voting will lead to fraudulent ballots and fake results. He tweeted on May 26, without evidence, “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 and fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. That will be followed up with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!”
Underneath the two tweets were bright blue warnings that read “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” The sentence links to an explainer, that reads, “Trump falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election.’ However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud. Trump falsely claimed that California will send mail-in ballots to ‘anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there’ In fact, only registered voters will receive ballots. Five states already vote entirely by mail and all states offer some form of mail-in absentee voting, according to NBC News.” The five states are Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah.
….happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Upon finding out about the fact-check, Trump accused Twitter of “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election.” Legal scholar and Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe explained on Trump’s favorite platform that, “The First Amendment limits only the Government, not private entities like Twitter. Anyway, Twitter’s tagging of Trump’s claims about write-in voting is itself absolutely protected under the First Amendment as an expression of opinion. In addition, Twitter’s tagging, even insofar as it can be construed as a factual statement, is shielded by the defense of truth: the claim that Trump’s tweets about massive write-in voter fraud are at best extremely misleading and at worst downright lies is demonstrably true.”
The president has accused social media platforms of being biased against conservatives in the past. During a White House Social Media Summit, held in July 2019, Trump called out Facebook, Twitter, and Google for allegedly having “terrible bias” against his reporters. Trump and Twitter bumped heads in 2017 when a group of users sued the president for blocking them from seeing his tweets. Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump, settled in May 2018, ruled that the president can’t use a private platform like Twitter “for all manner of official purposes” while “exclud[ing] persons from an otherwise‐open online dialogue because they express views with which [he] disagrees.”