On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—rarely one to pick a political fight—took to his own platform to clarify the company’s decision.
Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
Per our Civic Integrity policy (https://t.co/uQ0AoPtoCm), the tweets yesterday may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots). We’re updating the link on @realDonaldTrump’s tweet to make this more clear.
— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020
In the statement, Dorsey referenced comments Mark Zuckerberg made to Fox News contrasting Facebook’s obsessively neutral approach to policing its platform with Twitter’s present situation. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Dorsey also denounced Trump’s online supporters and surrogates for going after the company’s executives, asking the Twitter’s newly energized critics, inspired by Trump’s own ire toward the company, to “please leave our employees out of this.”
On Dorsey’s own account and the official Twitter Safety account, the company clarified that its decision to add a fact-checking link to two of Trump’s tweets stemmed specifically from the possibility that they might “confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.”
We added a label to two @realDonaldTrump Tweets about California’s vote-by-mail plans as part of our efforts to enforce our civic integrity policy. We believe those Tweets could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) May 28, 2020
In the tweets the company added a label to—but did not hide or remove—the president states falsely that California’s governor is “sending ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state no matter who they are or how they got there.” In reality, the state is only sending the ballots to registered voters. Trump also made fear-mongering false claims about the integrity of mail-in voting, a system already widely used around the country in the form of absentee ballots.
With his clarification, Dorsey linked to what Twitter calls its “civic integrity policy,” a set of rules prohibiting certain kinds of “manipulative behavior” on the platform. Per those rules, misleading information about how to vote, the documents required to vote or the date and time of an election of other civic process are prohibited. Under the policy, broader claims about elections “such as unsubstantiated claims that an election is ‘rigged’” are not prohibited.
Twitter’s list of possible enforcement actions includes forcing users to delete the tweets, locking their account if the misinformation is present in a bio or permanent suspension “for severe or repeated violations of this policy.”
Though the timing might be coincidental, Tuesday’s move by Twitter came on the heels of a series of tweets from Trump promoting a baseless conspiracy theory that MSNBC host and political rival Joe Scarborough was responsible for the death of a Congressional intern almost two decades prior.
On Wednesday evening, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president would soon sign an executive order “pertaining to social media,” widely expected to be a shocking though likely unsubstantial strike back at Twitter’s policy enforcement choices this week. The order may rehash the White House’s previous stalled efforts to threaten Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a vital legal provision underpinning the modern internet—and wield power against social media companies through the FTC and FCC.
Alluding to the expected retaliation, Trump tweeted “Stay Tuned!!!” to his more than 80 million followers.