US president Donald Trump has gained considerable infamy for his Twitter outbursts – be it against a naysayer, or his constant strife against “fake news”. Now, hours after Twitter slapped a fact check label on his misguiding opinion of mail-in ballots, Trump has ironically taken to Twitter itself to state that “social media platforms totally silence conservative voices”. On this note, Trump has further continued to state that such companies, which would presumably include Twitter as well, would face the consequences. “Strongly regulate, or close them down,” to be precise.
However, what is important to note is that this piece of insight from President Trump is also rather lopsided, since it is not really so easy for one person, no matter how mighty, to “close down” a publicly traded billion dollar company based on personal grudges.
On May 26, President Trump tweeted from his personal account about mail-in ballots, alleging that they are “substantially fraudulent”. While his mistrust may be based on a number of other reasons, mail-in ballots have actually been found to be trustworthy. As a result, in what has been a much welcomed move by many, Twitter slapped a fact check label underneath Trump’s original tweet about mail-in ballots. The label linked Twitter users to a trove of articles covered by mainstream media houses, explaining what mail-in ballots are, and how they work.
....living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. 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. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
This move by Twitter comes at a time when the world’s largest social media platforms are regularly coming under fire for not doing enough to curb misinformation being spread by political leaders, or other popular public figures. Twitter’s policy shift towards fact checking was led largely by the Covid-19 outbreak, which caused it to start labelling or removing any misleading tweets about the pandemic. This, as is being viewed by global communities, may also help host a cleaner and lesser of the propaganda-driven social media activities that were central to numerous debates during USA’s previous presidential elections that instated Trump at the helm.
Can Trump ‘close them down’?
President Trump, however, has clearly been displeased by Twitter fact checking what he said, and this may be a problem that can spread a larger message across the world. Twitter has often been accused of not doing enough to check opinions posted and spread by public figures, and while the fear of retribution may have lent reason to their stance, given the importance of such social media platforms today, it was about time that it started fact checking everyone’s tweets, especially those in seats of power.
....happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
On this note, what is interesting to note is that President Trump’s opinion of “closing down” the social media platforms may not be purely factual, either. Hypothetically, if Trump was to press charges against Twitter (or any social media platform) in order to bring them down, he would, first of all, need solid, factual evidence of legal wrongdoing against them.
Other ways of shutting down a company include getting a majority vote from shareholders or the board of directors (depending on the type of company) to dissolve a company, before the process to shut a company down can be set in motion. Taking these factors into account, what comes out is that personal grudges may not be enough to close down a company. With Twitter’s fact checking of President Trump’s tweet falling very much within the legal parentheses, it is unlikely that the Republicans can shut down such massive internet corporations at free will.
What this means for Silicon Valley
However, this does imply a steadily souring relation between the government powers and US’ technology hub, the Silicon Valley in the West Coast. Technology companies have been frequently at loggerheads with government officials – Apple’s long drawn legal battles over data privacy are well documented. With President Trump’s latest tweet, it is clear that governmental administration and technology corporations are not exactly seeing eye to eye on many matters.
What now remains to be seen is whether the matter remains persistent in the near future. Twitter, having already fact checked Brazilian President Jair Bolsonero in the past, may succeed in setting a much needed precedent for Silicon Valley to follow, and it will be interesting to see how this debate pans out in the long run.