President Donald Trump lashed out at social media Thursday accusing it of anti-conservative bias which he called one of the greatest threats to free speech in American history – and said he wished he could close down Twitter.
He lambasted the platform as he signed an executive order in the Oval Office which is intended to begin tackling what he claims is censorship of conservative voices.
The order could open Twitter, Facebook and Google up to lawsuits by diluting the legal protection which stops them from being liable for posts on their platforms, and which also allows them to moderate content.
It came after Twitter slapped two of the President’s tweets with a ‘fact check’ on Tuesday and Trump hit back by saying he would regulate and even shut down the Silicon Valley giants if they are shown to be biased.
He accused Twitter of becoming an ‘editor with a point of view’ and not a ‘neutral platform’ by fact-checking him and then slammed one of its executives, Yoel Roth, its head of user integrity, accusing him of ‘fraud’ for the fact check. Twitter says he was not involved in it.
Asked if he wanted to get rid of Twitter he said: ‘If it was legal, if it was able to be legally shut down, I would.’
Trump signed the executive order on ‘fairness’ which could lead to Twitter, Facebook, Google and other social media and search platforms being stripped of a legal shield which makes them almost immune from being sued.
Trump rolled out the tough language as Attorney General Bill Barr looked on and the president signed an order that could expose Twitter and other social media platforms to a barrage of lawsuits.
‘We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers it has faced in American history, frankly, and you know what’s going on as well as anybody. It’s not good,’ Trump said before inking the order, which came just days after Twitter for the first time provided what Trump’s staff calls a fact-check on his own tweets.
Pressed on whether he would in fact seek to use the courts to shut down Twitter, Trump responded: ‘I think this: if twitter were not honorable, if you’re going to have a guy like this be your judge and jury I think you shut it down as far as I’m concerned,’ in reference to Twitter’s ‘head of integrity,’ who has been revealed to have posted tweets highly critical of Trump and top Republicans.
Trump, a billionaire who amassed a branding and real estate empire before running for president, added: ‘A small handful of powerful social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communication in the United States and we know what they are, we don’t have to name them, we’re going to give you a complete listing.’
He continued: ‘They’ve had unchecked power to censure, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences.’
Trump brought up the 2016 elections as he tore into Twitter – a fact lawyers might try to flag if companies try to claim in court the action is politically motivated.
‘We can’t allow that to happen especially when they go about doing what they’re doing,’ Trump said. ‘Because they’re doing things incorrectly. They have points of view. And if we go by that it’s actually amazing that there was a success in 2016, but we can’t let this continue to happen. It’s very, very unfair.’
‘What they’re doing is tantamount to monopoly you can say,’ Trump claimed. It’s tantamount to taking over the airwaves. Can’t let it happen. Otherwise we’re not going to have a democracy. We’re not going to have anything to do with a republic.’
Trump also tried to use the power of federal purse strings as pressure, saying we ‘are not going in any social media company that repress[es] free speech.’
He said the government spends ‘billions of dollars on giving them money’ and called the firms ‘rich enough,’ although independent accounts put the total government ad spending far lower.
‘We’re going to be doing none of it or very little of it,’ Trump said.
Asked if he would consider simply deleting his Twitter account given his concerns, Trump said he would ‘do that in a heartbeat’ if we had a ‘fair press’ in the U.S.
A leaked draft of the document suggests that it will try to limit the crucial protection social media companies have from being sued under normal defamation and free speech laws, although it falls short of his threat to ‘close’ platforms.
Shares in Twitter, the target of Trump’s anger for the fact check, were down 3% by early afternoon, but those in Facebook rose slightly.
Its founder Mark Zuckerberg told CNBC he did not want to be an ‘arbiter of truth,’ and criticized Twitter’s Jack Dorsey for the factchecks. Google share were also up. It has not passed comment on the row.
The draft version of the order shows that Trump will order the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clarify how to enforce regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
That is the federal law largely exempting online platforms from legal liability for users’ posts.
Executive action: Donald Trump signed an order which will attempt to dilute key legal protections for Twitter – and unloaded on the platform and social media
Draft order: This is a version of what the White House was expected to sign. Scroll down to read it in full
But the draft order says that the protection should not apply if companies are ‘engaged in editorial conduct’ – meaning making a judgment for themselves about how people’s points of view are presented.
That is what Trump accuses Twitter of doing by fact-checking him, and what conservatives claim happens to their posts which are promoted less than those with more liberal viewpoints.
Such a move could open up Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to an avalanche of lawsuits from people claiming their views have been unfairly censored.
It also requires the agency to look at whether social media platforms are using ‘deceptive’ policies to moderate content by not openly declaring how they decide how viewpoints are dealt with.
Trump is also 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.
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.
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’
President Donald Trump signs his name as he, Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence and first lady Melania Trump tour the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
The White House launched a similar tool last year but it is now closed.
The draft order says it received 16,000 responses of alleged bias and suggests that they will form part of the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation.
Anti-conservative bias claims on social media
Facebook internal report admitted bias
Facebook last year opened itself to an independent investigation of anti-conservative bias after repeated criticism from Trump.
The audit, carried out by former Republican Senator Jon Kyl and others, found that the tech giant was still some way off eliminating its bias.
It concluded that Facebook’s efforts to counter fake news had silenced conservative voices. One example, was that fact-checking sites used by the social media giant were inherently left-leaning.
In addition, it found that Facebook’s ads policy could have restricted anti-abortion advocacy.
Kyl’s report said: ‘Facebook has recognized the importance of our assessment and has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered. But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives.’
Don Jr. claimed to be hit by ‘Shadow banning’
A series of high-profile pro-Trump figures have claimed that Twitter and Instagram have made it harder to find their accounts or individual posts.
Among those making the claim have been Donald Trump Jr., and Mark Meadows, at the time a congressman and now Trump’s White House chief of staff, and Jim Jordan, a prominent Trump defender.
Trump Jr. made the claim in his book, Triggered.
Twitter has denied that it was involved in such a practice but did update its algorithm when the controversy erupted in July 2016. Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – has said it does not alter the prominence of posts for political reasons.
James Woods is banned from Twitter
The conservative actor and prominent tweeter was locked out of his account in May 2019 for tweeting: ”If you try to kill the King, you best not miss’#HangThemAll.’
Candace Owens suspended by Twitter after criticizing lockdown
Conservative commentator Candace Owens tweeted earlier this month: ‘Apparently @GovWhitmer believes she is a duly elected dictator of a socialist country. The people of Michigan need to stand up to her. Open your businesses. Go to work. The police think she’s crazy too. They are not going to arrest 10,000,000 people for going to work.’
A Twitter spokesman confirmed that Owens’ tweet violated its Covid-19 fake news policy. Twitter said the tweet would be deleted and Owens would serve a ‘timeout’ before being allowed to log back on.
Google accused of censorship of views on abortion, gun rights, Islam and terrorism on its YouTube platform
In February, Google persuaded a federal appeals court on Wednesday to reject claims that YouTube illegally censored Prager University, a conservative nonprofit run by radio talk show host Dennis Prager.
PragerU claimed that YouTube’s opposition to its political views led it to tag dozens of videos on such topics as abortion, gun rights, Islam and terrorism for its ‘Restricted Mode’ setting, and block third parties from advertising on the videos.
Writing for the appeals court, however, Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown said YouTube was a private forum despite its ‘ubiquity’ and public accessibility, and hosting videos did not make it a ‘state actor’ for purposes of the First Amendment.
Clinton scourge Tulsi Gabbard sues Google over violating free speech
Last year she announced she was suing Google for $50million after it suspended her advertising account in the hours after a Democratic debate because it was trying to silence her.
Although she’s a Democrat, Gabbard’s nationalist ideals have put her at odds with the Democratic party.
Hillary Clinton suggested the Iraq War veteran was a Russian asset.
Tulsi Now Inc. said in the lawsuit filed in July 2019 that Google violated her right to free speech and didn’t provide ‘a straight answer’ for suspending her ads account.
Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify ban Infowars’ Alex Jones
In 2018, Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify banned pages and content from Infowars and the show’s host Alex Jones.
A Facebook spokesman referred to content which it said glorified violence and the use of dehumanizing language to describe Muslims and migrants. These violated their graphic violence and hate speech policies.
The spokesman noted conspiracy theories espoused by Jones on events like the 9/11 attacks and Sandy Hook school shooting, were not the reason for his ban.
YouTube followed suit a few hours later, as did Spotify, after Apple removed Jones from its podcast directory.
Laura Loomer banned from Twitter after she claimed Ilhan Omar was ‘anti Jewish’ and supported Shariah law
It comes as a federal appeals court this week upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that accused Twitter, Facebook and other tech giants of conspiring to stifle the political views of far-right activist, Laura Loomer, and a conservative nonprofit, Freedom Watch.
In November 2018, Loomer handcuffed herself to the front doors of Twitter headquarters in New York after the company banned her. The company permanently suspended Loomer’s account, which had more than 260,000 followers, after she tweeted that Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, is ‘anti Jewish’ and supports Sharia law.
Facebook also banned Loomer, who is running for a Florida congressional seat as a Republican.
In March 2019, U.S District Judge Trevor McFadden said their suit raises ‘non-trivial concerns’ but didn’t tie these concerns to viable legal claims.
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.
And federal agencies are to be told to review their advertising on social media platforms, which was worth $1.5 billion in the last decade.
Section 230 of the 1996 law is a shield against social media networks being sued for what people post on their platforms.
It says: ‘No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’
It also says that: ‘No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.’
A publisher or speaker can normally be sued for defamation for the contents of their speech but by not being categorized as those, any attempt to sue social media giants for what is written on them falls at the first hurdle.
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.’
When it was written social media did not exist.
Since its explosive growth, platforms including Twitter and Facebook have changed repeatedly.
Their algorithms decide the order in which users see new posts, and can be used to make particular content more or less visible.
That has led critics to say that they are behaving as publishers – deciding what people read or see – and not simply as forums.
The rest of the act gives forums powers to set standards for content, which social media platforms have used as a basis for moderating content and to justify the existence of algorithms.
Conservatives – and many others outside mainstream thought on matters like history, climate change and even the coronavirus – have criticized the use of Section 230 claiming big tech has censored content without being subject to scrutiny.
Republican senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Josh Hawley (MO) were among those who slammed Twitter for putting its fact-checking flag on the president’s tweets.
Rubio said: ‘The law still protects social media companies like @Twitter because they are considered forums not publishers.
‘But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law.’
Hawley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it ‘raises serious questions about whether Twitter targeted the President for political reasons.’
There is however zero possibility of a Democratic House passing reforms to the law itself.
That leaves Trump trying to use the powers of the executive branch.
The draft order also puts a prohibition on federal tax dollars going to online platforms that ‘violate free speech principles.’
But a report last February showed the feds spent just $8 million on social media ads in 2018.
The idea of broadening the platforms’ legal exposure carried more weight.
Under the order, the Commerce Secretary would file a petition for new FCC rule-making. It would make platforms liable when actions are ‘deceptive, pretextrual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service,’ or when taken with ‘inadequate notice’ or by an ‘unreasoned explanation.’
Trump himself has made ample use of lawsuits and legal threats over his career. USA found in 2016 Trump and his companies had been involved in 3,500 lawsuits over three decades.
Trump’s moves brought immediate pushback.
‘This is simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president,’ said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, according to the Washington Post.
Added former FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, ‘Social media can be frustrating. But an executive order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the president’s speech police is not the answer.’
Jesse Blumenthal, head of the Koch-backed Stand Together group, said it was ‘just nonsense’ to try to rewrite a clear statute through an executive order.
The draft rule’s first section contains language that is more political than technical, following reports the administration rushed to put it out.
It calls free speech ‘the bedrock of American democracy’ and says having a limited number of platforms ‘hand-pick’ speech is ‘fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.’
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted: ‘Here’s the inevitable effect … all comments sections will be taken down. No website has the resources to actively edit all comments in order to shield themselves from liability, and no website is willing to leave comments entirely standards-free.’
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.
Trump had claimed Wednesday in a 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.
‘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.
Responding to the ‘fact checking’ Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale said: ‘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.’
In contrast, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey refused to take down the president’s tweets where he touted a debunked 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.
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.’
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 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
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg goes after Twitter for its fact-checking of Trump
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg criticized competitor Twitter on Thursday after it ‘fact-checked’ tweets from Donald Trump.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey immediately fired back saying that the site would continue to call out ‘incorrect or disputed information’ about elections shared by users.
In his interview with Fox, Facebook’s Zuckerberg said that it was not the place of the company to act as an ‘arbiter of truth’.
‘We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this,’ he said.
‘I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,’ he added.
‘Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.’
Dorsey tweeted: ‘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,’ he wrote.
‘Per our Civic Integrity policy, the tweets yesterday may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots),’ he added. ‘We’re updating the link on @RealDonaldTrump’s tweet to make this more clear.’
‘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 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.
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
Biased head of Twitter’s ‘Site Integrity’ has previously called the President ‘a racist tangerine’
Yoel Roth, whose official title at Twitter is head of Site Integrity, faced backlash on Wednesday after his history of anti-Trump tweets emerged less than 24 hours after the social media giant put a fact-checking warning on two of the president’s tweets.
Yoel Roth, whose official title at Twitter is head of Site Integrity
In a January 2017 tweet, Roth referred to the Trump administration as ‘actual Nazis in the White House’ and tweeted in November 2016 that fly over states were racist.
He also compared Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway to Nazi Joseph Goebbels saying: ”Today on Meet The Press, we’re speaking with Joseph Goebbels about the first 100 days…’ – What I hear whenever Kellyanne is on a news show.’
The majority of Roth’s tweets criticizing Trump and his administration were posted around 2017.
Roth started working at Twitter in 2015 as a product trust partner, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He has been in his current role as head of site integrity for almost two years.
Conway, who is a counselor to Trump, lashed out at Roth in an interview with Fox & Friends on Wednesday and went as far as giving out his Twitter handle on live television.
‘This guy is constantly attacking Trump voters, Trump, Mitch McConnell, you name it. He’s the head of integrity at Twitter,’ Conway said.
‘It’s horrible the way he looks at people who should otherwise have a free and clear platform on Twitter.’
‘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.
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.
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
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.
‘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.
President Trump continued to tweet about Lori Klausutis’ death on Tuesday, again suggesting that Joe Scarborough may have been behind her death
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.
READ DONALD TRUMP’S DRAFT EXECUTIVE ORDER ON SOCIAL MEDIA ‘FAIRNESS’
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