On Tuesday, Twitter for the first time prompted readers to check the facts in tweets posted by U.S. President Donald Trump, warning his claims about mail-in ballots were false and had been debunked by fact-checkers.
The blue exclamation mark notification prompted readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots” and directed them to a page with news articles and information about the claims aggregated by Twitter staffers.
Trump, who has more than 80 million followers on Twitter, had claimed in tweets earlier in the day that mail-in ballots for the election in November would be “substantially fraudulent” and result in a “rigged election.” He also singled out the governor of California over the issue, although the state is not the only one to use mail-in ballots.
“Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud,” said a headline at the top of the Twitter page, followed by a “what you need to know” section correcting three false or misleading claims made in the tweets.
Twitter confirmed this was the first time it had applied a fact-checking label to a tweet by the president, in an extension of its new “misleading information” policy, which was introduced earlier this month to combat misinformation about the coronavirus.
The company said at the time that it would extend the policy on disputed or misleading information about COVID-19 to other topics.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale responded to Twitter’s fact-check by saying, “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.”
Twitter’s fact-checking notification came hours after the social network declined to take action on tweets Trump sent about the 2001 death of a former congressional staff member, after her widower asked the company to remove them for furthering false claims.
A Twitter spokesperson told Reuters that the difference was that the later Trump tweets were related to election integrity.
Democrats support mail-in ballots
Trump’s tweets come as voting rights activists have filed dozens of lawsuits around the U.S. to increase universal vote-by-mail and other ballot access measures, which Democrats say are needed to reduce long lines at polling sites that could increase the spread of COVID-19.
Advocates of expanding absentee voting contend disproportionately minority, disabled and immunocompromised individuals who tend to vote Democratic could be disenfranchised and the election thrown into chaos unless immediate steps are taken to make it easier and safer to vote.
States have broad authority to set their own rules for voting, and numerous studies have found little evidence of voter fraud connected to voting by mail.
But Republican Party officials argue election fraud would increase if more voters are not required to appear in person to cast a ballot.
Trump last week suggested he might withhold federal funding from some states, such as Michigan and Nevada, for seeking to expand voting by mail. But he dropped the threat after an avalanche of criticism from Democrats. Both states are pivotal to his re-election bid.
In separate tweets reacting to the fact-check notification, Trump accused Twitter of interfering in the presidential election and “stifling” free speech.