Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., talks with reporters after the Senate Republican Policy luncheon in Russell Building on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images
A Republican senator asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday whether the social media giant’s decision to fact-check President Donald Trump’s tweets on mail-in voting was politically motivated.
The move by the president’s favorite social media platform to slap warning labels on his tweets “raises serious questions about whether Twitter targeted the President for political reasons,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said in a letter to Dorsey.
Hawley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested that Twitter’s intervention in Trump’s messaging may jeopardize its status under the decades-old law that protects it and other websites from bearing responsibility for the content posted by its users.
Calls for Twitter to intervene in the president’s account grew earlier Tuesday, after Trump continued making baseless suggestions that MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough might have been involved in the death in 2001 of his former intern when he served in Congress.
The staffer’s widower asked Dorsey to remove Trump’s tweets on the matter. “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,” the widower wrote in a letter to the CEO. Twitter refused to delete those claims.
On Tuesday evening, Twitter for the first time branded two of Trump’s tweets, neither about Scarborough, with warning labels, alerting readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots.”
Trump had tweeted that morning that mail-in ballots would be “substantially fraudulent” if their use was widespread in the 2020 presidential election.
“This will be a rigged election,” the president claimed. When clicked, the labels led users to a page that read in part: “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.” The fact-checking page pushed back on multiple claims made by Trump in the tweets, calling them “unsubstantiated.” The links cited reporting by CNN, The Washington Post and other news outlets.
Trump, in a pair of tweets, accused Twitter of “interfering” in the 2020 election. “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”
On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, “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.”
Hawley, a reliable ally to Trump, said in his letter to Dorsey that “Twitter’s unprecedented decision to single out the President for disfavor, based on his political speech, is alarming.”
The senator noted that Twitter’s “Head of Site Integrity,” who co-wrote a May 11 blog post on the company’s change in approach to misleading information, had reportedly posted critical messages about Trump and his supporters in the past. Twitter told Buzzfeed News that that employee, Yoel Roth, was not responsible for fact-checking Trump’s tweets.
Hawley questioned if Twitter will “only go after people its employees dislike?”
He accused Twitter of editorializing by “appending its own comments and assessment to the President’s speech.”
“Twitter’s decision to affix its own editorial content to users’ posts brings into question the basis” for its immunity from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Hawley wrote.
Section 230 states: “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.”
Hawley tweeted that he will be introducing legislation “to end these special government giveaways.”
“If @Twitter wants to editorialize & comment on users’ posts, it should be divested of its special status,” Hawley tweeted, “& forced to play by same rules as all other publishers. Fair is fair.”
Hawley asked Dorsey for a reply by June 15.