President Trump is expected to sign an sign executive order on social media companies today that will expose them to government investigations into allegations of bias and more lawsuits.
It comes after Twitter slapped two of the President’s tweets with a ‘fact check’ on Tuesday and Trump hit back by accusing tech giants of censoring conservative voices in the run up to the November election.
Trump is expected to set up a mechanism allowing Americans to report alleged political censorship or bias by the social media giants which will be investigated by the Federal Trade Commission.
His executive order is also expected to order a review of a law that has long protected Twitter, Facebook and Google from being responsible for the material posted by their users.
Trump’s order would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to propose and clarify regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law largely exempting online platforms from legal liability for users’ posts.
President Trump’s aides told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the president would sign a social media-focused executive order. While they didn’t give details he’s been in a fight with Twitter for 24 hours over the site’s decision to fact-check his tweets
Donald Trump warned Wednesday morning that his administration will begin regulating and shutting down social media sites, claiming tech giants try to ‘totally silence conservative voices’
The claim came after Twitter, one of his favorite mediums for communicating with the American people, labeled two of his tweets about mail-in ballots as ‘misleading’
It also requires the agency to look at whether a social media platform uses deceptive policies to moderate content and if its policies are inconsistent with its terms of service.
Slew of pending antitrust cases against big tech
Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are under a series of probes into allegations that the tech behemoths use their clout to unfairly defend their market share, including one by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.
The Justice Department is believed to be looking at all four companies while the Federal Trade Commission is probing Facebook and Amazon.
Dozens of state attorneys general, led by New York, are also investigating Facebook.
Earlier this month it was reported a group of state attorneys in Texas were likely to file an antitrust lawsuit against Google.
Once seen as the darlings of Washington, Silicon Valley firms have become targets for politicians of all stripes.
US regulators recently imposed a record $5 billion fine on Facebook for lapses in privacy and data protection, including the leaking of private data for political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
Tech firms and their backers deny monopolistic conduct and argue the fast-evolving digital economy has robust competition and has led to lower prices and more choice for consumers.
But there is growing concern that slapping fines on companies that make hundreds of billions of dollars has done little to curb their powers.
Reporting by Reuters
Perhaps more significantly, the draft order would also set up a a tool for Americans to report examples of bias or censorship by social media giants.
The White House tech bias reporting tool will collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC will then be required to ‘consider taking action’, examine whether complaints violate the law, draw up a report describing such complaints and make the report publicly available.
The draft order also requires the attorney general to establish a working group including state attorneys general that will examine the enforcement of state laws that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair and deceptive acts.
The president threatened to shut Twitter down on Tuesday after it fact-checked two of his tweets and yesterday Trump took broadsides at social media in general, tweeting: ‘Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election.’
The 1996 statute has allowed Silicon Valley to make billions of dollars from their users’ posts, photos and videos, with minimal legal liability, while giving them freedom to remove anything they see as ‘objectionable.’
Conservatives – and many others outside mainstream thought on matters like history, climate change and even the coronavirus – have criticized Section 230 because it allows big tech to censor content.
Michael Pachter, research analyst at investment firm Wedbush Securities, told Fox Business: ‘Twitter came up with a rule that applies to one person …
‘They’re not treating (Trump) the way they treat everybody else. They came up with a separate set of rules just for him, which is fact-checking, because they’re too afraid of his bullying to delete the tweet or suspend him.’
Pachter said that fact-checking ‘is a stupid idea on Twitter’s part’ and that instead they should just delete tweets which are reported, warn the offender or suspend them for breaking its rules.
On Wednesday, Trump demanded social media platforms ‘clean up your act’ as he warned his administration will begin to regulate and even shutter such websites after Twitter, for the first time ever, fact-checked his tweets.
The president has often attacked social media giants and the people who run them – even as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has refused to give into pressures to take some of Trump’s tweets down. Pictured: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left) and Dorsey (right)
Twitter posted a blue exclamation mark alert underneath two of Trump’s tweets about potential for fraud with mail-in voting, prompting users to ‘get the facts about mail-in ballots’
Users who clicked on the blue exclamation marks are then redirected to a page explaining why the claim was unsubstantiated, including an assertion that Trump’s claim are ‘false’ and that there is ‘no evidence’ that vote-by-mail was linked to voter fraud
He lamented in the Twitter thread that conservatives are being silenced and disproportionately regulated on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook as Twitter issued ‘misleading’ warning labels on two of his tweets about mail-in voting on Tuesday.
TWITTER’S TRUMP ‘FACT CHECK’: THE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
Twitter labeled two linked Trump’s tweets as ‘misleading’ Tuesday, their first ever action against the president on the platform.
They added a link to a series of articles from outlets including CNN and the Washington Post – but put their own summary at the top of the page with Twitter’s bullet-point version of why they labeled the tweet misleading.
But the company left a series of unanswered questions about the process of fact-checking including:
- Why were these tweets selected?
- Who in Twitter decided they were ‘misleading’?
- Are all of Trump’s tweets checked for being misleading?
- How can the ballot claims be labeled misleading while a conspiracy theory that Joe Scarborough murdered a women who died of natural causes while he was hundreds of miles away does not?
- Is there a complaints process or did Twitter make the decision to label the tweets itself?
- If it did it itself, who actually decided?
- How does someone who has been labeled misleading appeal?
- Twitter claims simply to offer a platform to its users, and not to be a ‘publisher’ like a traditional newspaper or broadcaster. But they summary of its factcheck is an editorial product – so who wrote the claims at the top of the fact-checking page and how can they be held accountable?
- Are people subject to labeling for being ‘misleading’ given advance notice to allow them to delete their tweets?
- Will Trump’s tweets about being factchecked also be factchecked?
‘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,’ the president posted to his Twitter Wednesday morning. ‘We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that happen again.’
The warning was issued after Trump reacted with fury to having two of his tweets labelled as misleading, with links to news articles suggesting they were false attached.
In contrast, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey refused to take down the president’s tweets where he touted a conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was involved in the death of a staffer when he was a Republican U.S. congressman from Florida.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg meanwhile criticized his competitor and said it was not the place of private companies to interfere in what people say online.
Speaking to Fox News, Zuckerberg said: ‘We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this … I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.
‘Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.’
Twitter users, including some Republicans, did not react kindly to the president suggesting increased regulations on social media websites.
Prominent conservative Margot Cleveland, whose work has been featured in several right leaning news publications, weighed in claiming any private organization has the right to decide what speech can and cannot be featured on their platform.
‘Pro Tip: Saying Twitter is violating your constitutional right to free speech or your First Amendment rights is wacko b/c Twitter ain’t the government,’ Cleveland wrote Wednesday morning. ‘Saying Twitter is ‘stifling free speech’ isn’t. Powerful private organizations can & do stifle speech.’
Trump critic and Republican George Conway, who is married to White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, reposted a message from the State Department spokeswoman that contradicted the president’s tweet.
‘The State Department’s spokesperson, a couple of hours after the President of the United States suggested that the government may ‘strongly regulate’ social media platforms or ‘close them down,” Conway wrote as a lead up.
Morgan Ortagus tweeted from the official State Department spokesperson account: ‘Governments that restrict internet access deprive their citizens of the information they need to stay safe. #FreedomOfExpression both online and offline is vital, especially during COVID-19. @StateDept is proud to be an active member of the @FO_Coalition.’
Kellyanne Conway criticized Twitter for flagging the tweets, lashing out at Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site Integrity, during an interview with Fox & Friends Wednesday.
She even cited his Twitter handle on live television to make sure Republicans knew where to direct their complaints.
‘This guy is constantly attacking Trump voters, Trump, Mitch McConnell, you name it. He’s the head of integrity at Twitter,’ Conway lamented.
‘It’s horrible the way he looks at people who should otherwise have a free and clear platform on Twitter.’
Trump accused on Tuesday night that Twitter is interfering in the 2020 presidential election by fact-checking his tweets and flagging it with disclaimers
He also accused the tech giant of ‘stifling free speech’ in a fiery rant on Tuesday
Trump also re-asserted his flagged tweets’ theme in his Wednesday morning tweet: ‘Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country.’
Trump views that mail-in ballots will increase the chances of voter fraud – and benefit Democrats in 2020.
‘It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots,’ Trump insisted. ‘Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!’
On Tuesday, the president tweeted that California’s mail-in balloting initiative would lead to substantial voter fraud in the November general election.
‘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,’ Trump wrote Tuesday morning.
He then insinuated that non-citizens would be able to obtain ballots.
‘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,’ he continued in the Twitter rant. ‘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.’
Trump ended the two-tweet tirade by saying, ‘This will be a Rigged Election.’
‘No way!’ said Trump, who votes in Florida absentee.
The president used a mail-in ballot to vote in the Florida primary last month – a move his administration has defended since he cannot show up for in-person voting while living in Washington, D.C.
Trump’s claims were not well received by Republicans, with prominent conservative Margot Cleveland asserting ‘Twitter ain’t the government’ in explaining it cannot ‘stifle free speech’
George Conway, an anti-Trump Republican who is married to White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, pointed out that the president’s own State Department spokesperson disagrees with him on regulating social media
By Tuesday afternoon, Twitter had flagged the tweets with a blue exclamation mark prompting users to ‘get the facts about mail-in ballots.’
Another page on the social media site called Trump’s tweets ‘unsubstantiated,’ according to fact-checkers from CNN, Washington Post and other news outlets.
‘These tweets contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots,’ a statement from Twitter read.
Following the move from Twitter, Trump used the social media site he is attacking to decry its decision to label his tweets ‘misleading’ and accused them of ‘stifling free speech.’
He threatened the tech giant, stating he wouldn’t allow it to continue.
‘@Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post,’ Trump wrote Tuesday night.
‘Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!’ he asserted.
Trump’s 2020 campaign was quick to slam the move.
‘We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters. Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility. There are many reasons the Trump campaign pulled all our advertising from Twitter months ago, and their clear political bias is one of them,’ campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
For weeks Trump has said that states, not wanting to expose the voting public to COVID-19, shouldn’t be implementing full-scale mail-in balloting plans.
The president has drawn a distinction between absentee ballots, which he said can be used for special purposes, and governors sending every American voter a ballot to send back in.
‘I have to do an absentee because I’m voting in Florida and I happen to be president and I live in that beautiful house over there that’s painted white,’ he said in the Rose Garden Tuesday.
Trump’s tweets came after the Republican National Committee and two other GOP groups filed a lawsuit Sunday against California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had signed an executive order to use mail-in ballots for the November election.
‘In California the governor, I hear, is sending millions of ballots all over the state. Millions, to anybody. People that aren’t citizens, illegals, anybody that walks in California is going to get a ballot,’ Trump said at the White House Tuesday.
‘We are not going to destroy this county by allowing things like that to happen. We’re not destroying our country,’ he added.
Republicans long have been suspicious that making voting easier would elect more Democrats. Young people, for instance, tend to tilt more Democratic, but are also less likely to vote in-person.
California was the first state in the country to commit to sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters for the November election, a move responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
President Trump continued to tweet about Lori Klausutis’ death on Tuesday, again suggesting that Joe Scarborough may have been behind her death
‘Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom’s executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections,’ Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.
‘No state that conducts all-mail elections automatically mails ballots to inactive voters because it invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting,’ it added.
The lawsuit asks for Newsom’s order to be barred as unlawful and was filed by the RNC, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the California Republican Party.
Numerous studies have found little evidence of voter fraud connected to voting by mail. Democrats say it is necessary to counter health risks from the coronavirus by helping to prevent crowds at polling places.
Last Wednesday, Trump denounced plans to expand voting by mail in Michigan and Nevada, two key swing states.
He briefly threatened to withhold federal funding for the two states but dropped the warning after an avalanche of criticism from Democrats.
Since winning the 2016 election via the Electoral College, but losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, the president has alleged that ‘millions’ of people voted illegally in California and that’s how Clinton had such an edge.
There was no evidence of wide-scale voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election.
Twitter REFUSES to delete Donald Trump’s tweets accusing Joe Scarborough of murder despite grieving widower of dead staffer pleading with Jack Dorsey to remove them – but platform does apologize for ‘pain’ they are causing
- Timothy Klausutis, the husband of the late Lori Klausutis, has asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to delete President Trump’s tweets about his wife
- Lori Klausutis was a Congressional aide for Rep. Joe Scarborough and died after hitting her head at the office in 2001 at the age of 28
- Lori Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition, but Trump has tried to push a conspiracy theory that she was murdered by the now ‘Morning Joe’ host
Twitter refuses to take down President Trump’s tweet that accuse ‘Morning Joe’s’ Joe Scarborough of murder.
CNN reported that the company wouldn’t be pulling down the president’s tweets about the death of Scarborough’s late staffer, Lori Klausutis, even after her husband Timothy Klausutis wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking they be removed.
‘Please delete those tweets,’ Timothy Klausutis pleaded. ‘My wife deserves better.’
A spokesperson for Twitter said the company won’t be pulling down the president’s tweets on Lori Klausutis’ death, which Trump continued to write Tuesday morning.
‘We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,’ the spokesperson said. ‘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.’
Timothy Klausutis (pictured), the husband of the late Lori Klausutis, has asked Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey to remove President Trump’s tweet that allege she was murdered by her boss Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’
President Trump continued to tweet about Lori Klausutis’ death on Tuesday, again suggesting that Joe Scarborough may have been behind her death
These three tweets, two from President Trump and one from Donald Trump Jr., are referenced in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey penned by Timothy Klausutis, the widower of Joe Scarborough’s staffer who died in his Florida Congressional office in 2001
Joe Scarborough (right), with his wife and co-host Mika Brzezinski (left), served in Congress as a Republican, but has become a vocal critic of President Trump and his former political party
The New York Times obtained a copy of Timothy Klausutis’ letter.
As Timothy Klausutis recounts in the letter, Lori Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition and fell and hit her head on her desk at work, where her body was found the next morning.
Lori Klausutis died at age 28 in 2001. She had an undiagnosed heart condition and fell and hit her head at work
Lori Klausutis was 28-years-old when she died in 2001, and was a staffer in the Florida office of Rep. Joe Scarborough, who resigned from Congress later that year.
President Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have repeated a conspiracy theory that Scarborough, now the host of MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ was responsible for her death.
He was in Washington at the time.
Scarborough, while a Republican in Congress, has become extremely critical of the Trump administration.
In a May 12 tweet, the president wrote, ‘When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so,’ Trump tweeted.
‘Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!’ the president added.
In a May 4 tweet Trump wrote, ”Concast’ should open up a long overdue Florida Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough,’ he said, referring to NBC’s parent company, Comcast.
‘I know him and Crazy Mika well used them beautifully in the last Election, dumped them nicely, and will state on the record thathe is ‘nuts.’ Besides, bad ratings!’ the presidenet continued, referencing Scarborough’s co-host and wife Mika Brzezinski.
When MSNBC’s public relations tweeted that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden was going to come on ‘Morning Joe’ to talk about the sexual assault allegations made against him by former Congressional staffer Tara Reade, Donald Trump Jr. chimed in, ‘What show is Joe going to go on to discuss Lori Klausutis?’
These are the specific tweets Timothy Klausutis asked Dorsey to delete from the platform.
‘I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life,’ he wrote in the letter.
‘There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life,’ he continued.
He talked about how he didn’t want Lori’s niece and two nephews, who never met their aunt before she died, to meet her this way.
On Saturday, President Trump also tweeted about Lori Klausutis’ death, suggesting it should be investigated
Donald Trump Jr. complained abut Kara Swisher’s opinion piece for The New York Times, in which she agreed with Timothy Klausutis that President Trump’s tweet on his late wife’s death should be removed from Twitter
‘I’m a research engineer and not a lawyer, but reviewed all of Twitter’s rules and terms of service. The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) – is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service,’ he argued. ‘An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.’
‘I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain,’ Timothy Klausutis wrote.
Brzezinski said last week that she also planned to have a conversation with Dorsey over the president’s tweets.
‘Donald, you’re a sick person, you’re a sick person,’ she said on ‘Morning Joe,’ before turning her attention to Twitter. ‘Twitter, you shouldn’t be allowing this, and you should be taking these tweets down and you should be ashamed of yourself, you will be hearing from me on this.’
Twitter lets Trump’s tweets fly by arguing that he is a public figure and what he writes is news.
As of Tuesday morning, Trump’s tweets remained on the website – and he continued to tweet about Lori Klausutis’ death.
‘The opening of a Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough was not a Donald Trump original thought, this has been going on for years, long before I joined the chorus,’ the president wrote Tueday morning. ‘In 2016 when Joe & his wacky future ex-wife, Mika, would endlessly interview me, I would always be thinking about whether or not Joe could have done such a horrible thing? Maybe or maybe not, but I find Joe to be a total Nut Job, and I knew him well, far better than most.’
‘So many unanswered & obvious questions, but I won’t bring them up now! Law enforcement eventually will?’ the president added.
Donald Trump Jr. tweeted to complain that the New York Times was calling for the president to be censored.
‘The NY Times is calling for Twitter to censor the Pesident of the United States. If they can push for that who won’t they try to censor next?’ Trump Jr. wrote, misspelling president. ‘If they can push for that who won’t they try to censor next?’
‘Given silicon valley’s leftist tendencies you all better watch out, they are coming for all of you,’ he added.
Kara Swisher, the reporter who penned the column that first referenced Klausutis’ letter, had argued that the company needed to step in and play a bigger, truth-telling role.
‘The company tends to be hands-off when a Trump controversy erupts, relying on a tenet that he is a public figure and also that it cannot sort out what is truth and a lie and is therefore better off letting its community argue it out,’ she wrote. ‘While that might work when it comes to some issues, it has broken down here.’
Swisher said banning Trump from Twitter, like some have suggested, would be ‘too drastic,’ and labeling the content misinformation wouldn’t stop the spread of the lie.
‘I am supportive of the suggestion Mr. Klausutis makes in his letter to simply remove the offending tweets,’ she wrote.
HERE’S THE LETTER THE WIDOWER OF JOE SCARBOROUGH’S STAFFER SENT TO TWITTER’S JACK DORSEY
Nearly 19 years ago, my wife, who had an undiagnosed heart condition, fell and hit her head on her desk at work. She was found dead the next morning. Her name is Lori Kaye Klausutis and she was 28 years old when she died. Her passing is the single most painful thing that I have ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister.
I have mourned my wife every day since her passing. I have tried to honor her memory and our marriage. As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life. There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life.
The frequency, intensity, ugliness, and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the internet. These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage. President Trump on Tuesday tweeted to his nearly 80 million followers alluding to the repeatedly debunked falsehood that my wife was murdered by her boss, former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough. The son of the president followed and more directly attacked my wife by tweeting to his followers as the means of spreading this vicious lie. I’m sure you are aware of this situation because media aroundthe world have covered it, but just in case, here it is:
‘When willthey open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly ? Isn’t it obvious? What’s happening now? A total nut job!’ – President Trump
”Concast’ should open up a long overdue Florida Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough. I know him and Crazy Mika well used them beautifully in the last Election, dumped them nicely, and will state on the record that he is ‘nuts’.Besides, bad ratings!’ – President Trump
‘What show is Joe going to go on to discuss Lori Klausutis?’ – Donald Trump Jr.
My request is simple: Please delete these tweets.
I’m a research engineer and not a lawyer, but reviewed all of Twitter’s rules and terms of service. The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) – is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.
I am now angry as well as frustrated and grieved. I understand that Twitter’s policies about content are designed to maintain the appearance that your hands are clean you provide the platform and the rest is up to users. However, in certain past cases, Twitter has removed content and accounts that are inconsistent with your terms of service.
I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong him — the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain. I would also ask that you consider Lori’s niece and two nephews who will eventually come across this filth in the future. They have never met their Aunt and it pains me to think they would ever have to ‘learn’ about her this way.
My wife deserves better.
Thank you for your consideration.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Timothy J. Klausutis, Ph.D
What is the truth about Trump’s fact-checked Tweet? Twitter’s fails to answer American politics’ most bitterly disputed question: Could fraud swing a presidential election?
Twitter ignited a war with Donald Trump by attaching a fact-check to his tweets about mail-in ballots Tuesday, labeling them misleading and calling some of his claims ‘false.’
Its move puts the social media platform immediately at odds with Trump and his Republican Party.
Twitter has not said why it chose these tweets particularly, or how it assembled its own factcheck.
Additionally, its head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, has been plunged into the center of the row with his history of anti-Trump tweets surfacing.
Here we analyze the controversy over the dueling claims about fraud.
What Donald Trump said
What Twitter said
Breaking down each side’s claims
What Trump said: There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.
This is the heart of Trump’s – and Republicans’ – anti-mail-in ballot push. But it is impossible to either entirely prove or disprove because it is a prediction.
There is however substantial evidence that mail-in ballots are not ‘substantially’ fraudulent: they are used universally in five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Oregon was the first to go all mail-in, in 2000.
That means every voter is sent a ballot in advance, which they can either return completed during early voting by mail or in person at a polling place, or take uncompleted to a polling center on election day.
None of these states has been hit by increased claims of electoral fraud which would render their elections ‘substantially fraudulent.’
In Oregon, for example, the Secretary of State’s office referred 57 cases of possible fraud to prosecutors, resulting in 10 prosecutions after the 2016 presidential elections.
Among them were a student who voted in Colorado as well as Oregon when her parents sent her a ballot from home, and a woman who voted for herself and her daughter.
Remote systems: How people submit mail-in ballots varies by state. In Maryland, a special election last month to fill the late Elijah Cummings’ seat saw people able to drop off ballots in a box at voting centers, rather than coming inside
Absentee counting: This is how absentee ballots are counted in many areas, in this case in Cleveland in April for county board elections
As for how those 10 cases would have changed the election, four were Democrats, one Republican, one Libertarian and four unaffiliated; Oregon voted for Hillary Clinton by 1,002,106 to 782,403 for Donald Trump.
The tiny scale of prosecuted cases is a pattern across the country: the White House highlighted a report from the conservative Heritage Foundation which runs a database of fraud cases, but it managed to come up with just over 1,000 cases of all types of fraud going back as far as 1994, covering elections at every level.
Similarly, in 2012, a large-scale investigation commissioned by the Knight Foundation found 491 instances of absentee ballot fraud in the previous 12 years.
It said that level appeared to be higher than in voting in person; in the same period it found only 10 cases of people impersonating other voters at a polling place.
However in that same period, the total number of votes cast by Americans runs far into the billions and there have been no cases where an entire state’s elections have been declared to be ‘substantially fraudulent’ or anything equivalent to that.
In fact, levels of fraud uncovered by investigation after investigation are consistently extremely low.
For example, the U.S. Attorney in North Carolina ordered an audit of the 2016 election, where more than 4.5 million ballots were cast in a state which voted for Trump but is seen now as a possible swing state.
It uncovered the following – effectively about 500 votes which were ineligible:
- 400 suspected felons and 41 non-citizens had voted illegally
- 34 citizens were wrongly refused the right to vote because they were mistakenly declared ineligible
- two suspected cases of voter impersonation – it was not specified whether this was in person or by mail
- 24 people who voted twice, mostly in other states.
The exercise suggests that the numbers were far too small to move the results of the election. If translated to states with closer margins – such as Michigan – such a scale of fraud would still do nothing to change the outcome.
Analysis: It is impossible to disprove Trump’s claim that voting will be ‘substantially fraudulent,’ but he has no evidence to back it up. Mail-in voting has happened for many years with a very low level of fraud but it appears to be at a higher level than fraud for voting in person. Trump’s use of the word ‘substantially’ flies in the face of past experience
Trump: Mail boxes will be robbed
Mail theft is a constant problem for the Postal Service but there do not appear to be prosecuted cases where the intention was to steal ballots.
Ballots have however been stolen along with other items; in Anchorage, Alaska in 2018 KTUU reported that 46 ballots and other sodden mail were found in a snowbank after being reported missing from a set of mailboxes.
They were returned, voided and new ballots issued to the voters affected. Barcodes on ballot forms means they can be traced.
The highest risk is simply that people lose out on voting when mail is stolen.
Analysis: Unlikely – at best – to be tied to voting fraud
Trump: Ballots will be forged
Trump attaches no number to this claim or specifies what he means but he seems to be suggesting that fake ballots will be made.
This is highly difficult to pull off – each state uses different security methods but all have methods to prevent forgery. There do not appear to be cases of entirely forged ballot papers.
Analysis: Highly unlikely to happen
Trump: Ballots will be ‘illegally printed out’
It is unclear exactly what Trump means with this, making it difficult to analyze.
He may mean that ballots are issued in excess numbers or to illegal immigrants.
Security can be checked: Election officials say they check for envelope tampering and that signatures match those on file
The number of mail-in ballots applications or ballots issued has been a long-running point of contention between Republicans and Democrats.
Republican groups including Judicial Watch have sued a number of states – among them California – claiming they issue voting papers to defunct voters, who may have died or moved.
Republicans broadly have been active in ‘purging’ voter rolls and introducing use-it-or-lose-it voting laws, which the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional.
California settled a case with the group in 2017, agreeing to contact 1.5 million people who were possibly inactive voters and removing them from the voter roll if they did not respond.
However in Ohio, the Republican secretary of state released a list of ‘inactive voters’ to be purged, only for tens of thousands of names on the list to be discovered to be errors who were still active voters.
Analysis: Confused at best
Trump: Ballots will be fraudulently signed
Forging signatures to impersonate another voter appears to be the most common form of fraud – but is still vanishingly rare.
The most prominent case to help Trump’s claim is, ironically, one involving Republicans in North Carolina.
There the 2018 election for the 9th District was voided because of suspicions that a Republican contractor for Mark Harris had ‘harvested’ ballots and then had them filled in by members of his staff.
Mail-in ballots went Republican by 60% but just 16% of those who used them were registered to the party; Harris ‘won’ by a wafer-thin margin of 905 votes.
Real-life fraudster: Lesley Dowless was paid up to $5 per absentee vote by Republicans in an election which was voided because of his fraud
The contractor, Leslie Dowless, got his staff to go door-to-door in Bladen County and offer ‘assistance’ to people to request then fill in ballots; his stepdaughter admitted she simply signed them herself. Most of the targets were African-American.
They had done the same for the primary and Harris had beaten the incumbent, with 437 mail-in ballots for Harris, the challenger, to just 17 for the incumbent.
The fraud was the largest in modern history, and there had been warnings about Dowless’ suspicious conduct before, but he had not been investigated.
The true scale of Dowless’ crimes – and the number of ballots ‘fraudulently signed’ remains unclear. A total of 437 were submitted int he primary, and he was charged with specimen cases in the general election prosecution.
The last time a congressional election was voided was in 1974, and the re-run was the first ever ordered because of fraud.
Dowless’ motive was financial, having billed $5 Republicans per absentee vote he ‘helped.’
However, the scale of fraud which would be needed to sway a presidential election is far greater than Dowless was operating on, and there is no evidence that anything on that scale has happened.
Apart from anything else, at $5 a vote, the cost would be huge.
Election officials say that they have two levels of checks in place for preventing fraudulent signatures – first, inspecting for envelope tampering, and secondly signature verification.
That is itself fraught with challenges, including that people’s signatures may change over time, but has been held up by officials of both parties as a robust system that prevents fraud.
Analysis: Such fraud undoubtedly happens but the scale involved is tiny compared to the scale of voting. Ironically the best proof for Trump’s case involves his own party
Trump: The governor of California is sending ballots to… anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one
Gavin Newsom’s executive order states that the ballots will go to registered voters.
Trump suggests they will go to illegal immigrants, who cannot register to vote.
Put simply, as long as the register of voters is accurate, then there is no prospect that they will got to illegal immigrants.
There have been cases of non-citizens who have been mistakenly registered, including 1,500 who were mistakenly sent ballots in June 2018 after an error at the DMV in California.
However it is unknown how many of those were illegal immigrants rather than legal immigrants, or under-18s, and it is also unknown how many – if any – voted. If they had voted, they would have been criminally liable.
In contrast to a potential 1,500 illegal votes, more than 6.6 million ballots were cast in that primary in California.
Analysis: Trump is wrong – as long as California’s list of electors is up to date
Trump: Professionals telling all of those people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote
Trump is referring to the practice known by Republicans as ‘ballot harvesting,’ where politically-aligned groups collect mail-in ballots and return them for counting.
Ballot harvesting is among the most complicated areas of election law, and whether and how it is allowed varies state by state.
Some states – including Texas – have explicitly outlawed anybody returning an absentee ballot, or allowing only a family member to do so.
But others have no such restrictions, and there is no federal law on it. In Arizona, an attempt to ban it was deemed to fall foul of the Voting Rights Act.
Broadly, 27 states allow third-parties to collect and return ballots, but with a patchwork of restrictions; for example in Colorado, one person can return no more than 10 ballots.
California changed the law so that in the 2018 cycle, third-party groups could encourage people to fill in mail-in ballots and collect them. The main restriction is that collectors cannot be paid per ballot.
Republicans say this contributed to a blue wave which overwhelmed their members of Congress in the state – although the blue wave was repeated across the country.
There is nothing wrong in any state with asking people who have not voted to consider voting – in fact it is the basis of much campaigning, such as volunteers of both parties driving the elderly to vote on election day – or for that matter lobbying them about who they should vote for.
What is definitely true is that where legal, ballot-harvesting can juice turn-out – and it’s not just Democrats who think that.
Devin Nunes, one of Trump’s most reliably loyal Congressional defenders and a California Republican told Fox News this month that a ‘robust ballot-harvesting operation’ was vital to the party in November.
‘I hate saying that because it’s illegal in 49 states,’ he said, mis-stating the complexities of the law over it.
Fraud associated with ballot harvesting does not appear to have been formally reported in California but some Republicans have offered anecdotal suggestions that it took pace in 2018.
Where ballot harvest fraud definitely happened as in North Carolina’s 9th district in 2018, when Republican operative Leslie Dowless illegally persuaded voters to either complete a mail-in application and ballot for his party, or had his staff fill them in himself.
The state bans any handling of a ballot by a third party, but Dowless did so on a scale which was enough to void a congressional election for the first time since 1974.
Analysis: What Trump says will happen is not necessarily illegal in any form, but can be depending on the state. It has been practiced illegally on a large scale in one well-known case – to benefit Republicans
Twitter: 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.
There is evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to fraud – cases of it have been prosecuted after every election cycle.
The issue which is political divisive is the scale on which it happens.
Trump has repeatedly made claims it involves ‘millions’ of votes but there has never been any proof that he is correct.
His own commission on electoral fraud was disbanded without reporting, and no large-scale findings to back up his claims of vast fraud have been made.
But there have repeatedly been prosecutions of fraud linked to mail-in ballots – even if the numbers are vanishingly low in comparison
Analysis: Twitter are wrong to state categorically that there is no fraud. The dispute is not over its existence: the dispute is over whether it is widespread and enough to change the outcome of a presidential election
Twitter: 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.
Gavin Newsom’s executive order states that the ballots will go to registered voters.
That depends on the register being correct and nobody having been registered who is illegal.
Analysis: Twitter is correct as long as the rules are followed
Twitter: Five states already vote entirely by mail and all states offer some form of mail-in absentee voting, according to NBC News.
There are five states which mail ballots to every voter, although all of those voters can choose to vote in person if they wish.
All states do offer absentee voting in some form; each state’s laws are different.
Analysis: Twitter is imprecise