Updated 05/26/20 6:30 PM ET: Article updated to reflect that Twitter has for the first time placed misinformation labels on several of President Trump's tweets.
Twitter is once again under fire for refusing to delete baseless and vile tweets shared by President Trump.
This time, Trump posted tweets parroting a politically-driven conspiracy theory that the wife of Timothy Klausutis was murdered by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. Klausutis' wife, Lori Klausutis, died in 2001 not as a result of an attack but rather because of a heart condition that saw her collapse at work while she was interning for Scarborough in his congressional office.
Scarborough is a frequent critic of Trump on his show Morning Joe, so the president has dredged up a conspiracy theory to use again him — except, in this case, it involves another person who isn't a public figure at all.
A heartbreaking tale — In a letter addressed to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Klausutis said the conspiracies surrounding his wife have made it difficult for him to move forward with his life. "As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her life," he wrote.
He added, "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... I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the president of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain.”
Trump gets a free pass — Twitter's argument against removing anything from Trump has always been that its policies on harassment and misinformation don't apply to him because as the President of the United States, the public should be able to see everything on his mind so they can make an informed decision at the ballot box.
Twitter's response to Klausutis is grossly inadequate, with the company saying it's working on new product features to "address things like this going forward." The company today placed a misinformation label on several of Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots, the first time it's ever done that to the president. Clicking the label, which says "Get the facts about mail-in ballots," leads to a feed of stories headlined, "Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud."
Of course, with U.S. politics being so fiercely partisan these days, many Republicans simply don't recognize outlets like The Times as legitimate, so it's unclear how effective these labels will be. It hasn't placed these labels on any of the tweets about Mrs. Klausutis.
Twitter doesn't have any balls — The truth about Twitter's hesitance to delete Trump's tweets is likely nuanced and complicated, unlike Trump himself. It's understandable to make exceptions for the president on matters of misinformation or fake news so the public can see his insanity. But the company also doesn't want to be subjected to the ire of Trump and the GOP, who would surely find some way to retaliate if he were to be censored on his favorite platform. Twitter makes money in large part because it has a userbase of influential people that advertisers want to reach, and there's no denying Trump is great for Twitter's traffic, against which it sells ads. Losing Trump would, quite simply, be bad for business.
In this case, however, a non-public figure is being drawn into a battle between two very public figures who understand that attacks come with the job. Klausutis is not a public figure, though, and it's hard to imagine Republicans defending such vile tweets based on a conspiracy theory that has been widely debunked. As The Times notes in its story, Republicans didn't really react much when Google and Twitter banned Alex Jones, one of the wildest and vilest conspiracy theorists of them all.
Maybe Twitter should, you know, develop a spine and delete the tweets instead of reprimanding people for using adult words? It's the right thing to do, even if it's not the one that will please shareholders.