Note: Since the publication of this op-ed, President Trump has announced and signed an executive order regarding social media censorship.
With his Morning Joe tweets, Trump floated a conspiracy theory. The establishment media does this all the time—remember when Jussie Smollett was attacked by racist MAGA supporters in Chicago? Or when a group of Christian students harassed a Native American elder in Washington? Or when Vladimir Putin had Trump installed as his puppet president after the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to subvert American democracy?
Those things never actually happened, though they were widely reported on by mainstream media as legitimate. If you watched Morning Joe or CNN Tonight or Maddow, or read their Twitter feeds, you would be positively certain that they did. You would even be outraged.
The establishment media lost their collective minds over the Trump tweets, as they so often do. Twitter, too, has reacted rather hysterically to the president’s questions about Morning Joe. Twitter mirrored to the media’s breathless reaction and now, Twitter has implemented a “fact check” system to “correct” the president. Trump, however, has them where he wants them.
The fact checking we believe was prompted by the Morning Joe tweets, but was first implemented to "correct" Trump's claim about mail-in voting opening up a greater possibility of fraudulent ballots.
The questions now become: how will the policy be implemented across the board? If Twitter is fact checking the president, then surely they must also be fact checking his political opponents like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. If they aren’t (and they aren’t) then Trump’s claim that Twitter is interfering in the 2020 election is true, and Twitter must be brought before congress to answer for its political bias.
Also, if Twitter is fact checking the president, then they surely must be fact checking the Twitter accounts of CNN, MSNBC, NBC News, CBS News, ABC News, Bloomberg, and so on. After all, these outlets told us not to worry about coronavirus. They told us that the president was a white supremacist. They’ve floated theories about multiple murders, assaults, kidnappings, extortions and so on, often without definitive proof. Where are those fact checks?
If Twitter is fact checking the president, then where are the fact checks of the Chinese Communist Party, whose lies and cover-ups are regurgitated by the establishment media? How about the World Health Organization’s suggestion that a travel ban from a coronavirus hotbed would spread deadly racism? Or their assurances that China’s information on the coronavirus is accurate?
While Twitter fact checks the president, it allows the lies to flow unchecked from the CCP, the World Health Organization, and the mainstream media that peddles misinformation like gospel.
If China is successfully conveying disinformation through world organizations and American media proxies every day, doesn’t that sound a lot like actual foreign interference in American democracy?
Instead of providing fact checks for media accounts that routinely spread falsehoods—such as the entire basis for the impeachment—establishment media outlets are the ones being relied upon by Twitter to do the fact checking.
Who is fact checking the fact checkers? This is the envelope Trump is pushing. And whatever one might think about the actual Morning Joe theory being floated, Trump’s move is kind of brilliant.
Trump has basically tricked Twitter into implementing a system that will either a) hold his opponents (the establishment media and the Democrats) to account, or b) expose the political bias of big tech and lead to Twitter being dragged before congress to be regulated, like the monopoly publication they claim not to be.
Trump has also taken up the helm of conservatives’ legitimate complaints against their censure on social media platforms. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook came under fire for not giving conservative media platforms the same friendly algorithms as liberal ones, and it is well believed among the circles of conservative punditry that things like shadow bans and misinformation checks on Twitter are weaponized against conservative media.
Tweeting this morning, Trump wrote: “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. 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’s Morning Joe tweets were a test of Twitter and the bias within the liberal social media verse. What he did in instigating this line of questioning is push the same style of conspiratorial investigation that the media has been plaguing him with for the duration of his presidency. And he’s done with it.
In opening up this narrative, he’s using the exact same playbook that the media has been using for his whole presidency. He’s just asking questions, using the same rhetorical strategy as Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, or their colleagues in conspiratorial reporting. If the Scarborough questions require a fact check, then so do all network stories—especially developing stories that involve multiple theories.
When we wrote in February of this year that Twitter’s definitions of misinformation were not to be trusted, that their efforts were not transparent, and that those they rely on for factual information and accuracy were misguided, we were right.
Trump is tricking Twitter into implementing policy that then must be used against news organizations as well. If it’s not, then he’s right, and Twitter is running interference in the election.
The question that must be asked is why is big tech so stupid as to think that employing one partisan, biased voice to fact check another, without running that both ways, is a good idea. And the answer is because big tech only learned to code. Trump has just exposed that they have a lot more to learn.