Coronavirus, US Polls, BLM Protests: Why Social Media Had to Fact Check Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump pulls off his protective face mask as he poses atop the Truman Balcony of the White House after returning from being hospitalised at Walter Reed Medical Center for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment, in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2020. Reuters/Erin Scott TPX
US President Donald Trump, a coronavirus patient himself, is back at making false comparisons between COVID-19 and the flu, contradicting science and all other evidence that is there. His comments drew a flak from social media platforms Facebook and Twitter which have now deleted the US president's posts and added warning labels.
In short, Trump got fact checked. Again.
“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter and Facebook.
Twitter Inc responded by putting a warning label on the post, saying it included potentially misleading information. Facebook Inc removed the Trump post for breaking its rules on COVID-19 misinformation, according to CNN.
Here are the facts: The United States has the world’s highest death toll from the pandemic, with more than 209,000 deaths. By comparison, influenza typically kills between some 22,000 and 64,000 people a year in the United States, US government statistics show.
Secondly, according to what experts and health officials have said, the novel coronavirus is at least several times more lethal than seasonal flu. In fact, Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health believes that it could be as much as 10 times more lethal.
But this is not the first time Trump got fact checked on social media.
In May 2020, Twitter for the first time, labelled Trump's tweets as misleading and marked it as false information. Twitter highlighted two of Trump's tweets that falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud, adding a message the company has introduced to combat misinformation and disputed or unverified claims.
"Get the facts about mail-in ballots," read the message beneath each tweet. When you click on the link, it takes you to a fact-check page the platform had created filled with further links and summaries of news articles debunking the claim.
Twitter said the move was aimed at providing "context" around Trump's remarks. But Twitter's unprecedented decision is likely to raise further questions about its willingness to consistently apply the label to other Trump tweets that have been deemed misleading by third parties.
Trump, as expected, did not take things lying down and lashed out at Twitter accusing it of 'trying to interfere with the US Presidential Elections'. Exactly two days later, Trump said he will sign executive orders that may scrap or weaken a law that has protected Internet companies, including Twitter and Facebook, in an attempt to regulate social media platforms where he has been criticized.
A couple of weeks later, at the peak of the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis in the United States, Trump had tweeted a video where he suggested that those looting stores during the protests would be shot.
"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!" Trump's tweet read.
Twitter decided to step in, especially at a time of racially charged civil unrest in cities across the United States, and hid Trump's tweet saying that it glorified violence.
Trump's message came with a disclaimer that said: "This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible."
Back then, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg too came under the scanner for distancing himself and his platform from the whole fiasco and even taking a dig at Twitter for the fact checks. "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," he had then said.
In June this year too, Twitter and Facebook disabled a campaign video posted by Trump over copyright violations that slammed "radical leftwing groups" for the protests across the US. While Twitter disabled the video, Facebook and Instagram removed posts with the video on Trump campaign accounts.
The fact that Trump often shares false information and fake news is now supported by an actual study. Trump has been the world's biggest driver of Covid-19 misinformation during the pandemic, research by Cornell University showed.
(With inputs from agencies)