President Donald Trump is again pushing the limits of Twitter’s attempts to deal with national leaders who spread misinformation and engage in personal abuse, this time with a barrage of baseless tweets suggesting that a television host he has feuded with committed murder.
The husband of a woman who died by accident two decades ago in an office of then-Republican congressman Joe Scarborough is demanding that Twitter remove the president’s tweets suggesting Scarborough, now a fierce Trump critic, killed her.
“My request is simple: Please delete these tweets,” Timothy J Klausutis wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
The body of Lori Kaye Klausutis, 28, was found in Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach, Florida, congressional office on July 20, 2001. Trump has repeatedly tried to implicate Scarborough, a host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, in the death even though Scarborough was in Washington, DC, not Florida, at the time.
It is the latest instance in which the president has blown past Twitter’s half-hearted attempts to enforce rules intended to promote civility and “healthy” conversation on its most prominent user. Trump frequently amplifies misinformation, spreads abuse and uses his pulpit to attack private citizens and public figures alike, but has never faced Twitter sanctions on his account.
Klausutis wrote in his letter that he has struggled to move on with his life due to the ongoing “bile and misinformation” spread about his wife on the platform, most recently by Trump. His wife continues to be the subject of conspiracy theories 20 years after her death.
Trump’s tweets violate Twitter’s community rules and terms of service, he said. “An ordinary user like me would be banished,” he wrote.
For the first time, Twitter on Tuesday flagged some of Trump’s tweets with a fact-check warning.
Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed”, among other things. Under the tweets, there is now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a Twitter “moments” page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.
At Tuesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeatedly refused to say why Trump was pressing the unfounded allegations against Scarborough or whether he would stop tweeting about them.
Dorsey did not reply directly to Klausutis’ letter and has not taken any action on the president’s tweets. In a statement, Twitter said it was “deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family”.
But the company did not say it would do anything about Trump’s tweets and did not even mention them directly, although it did reference vague plans for future policy changes. “We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly,” Twitter said.
The proposed changes include labelling false or misleading tweets as such, with fact checks “crowdsourced” from Twitter. It recently started labelling such tweets when they are about COVID-19 and is looking to expand more broadly.
But the company has not said when this tool would be available. Based on history, it is also not clear if these strictures would apply to Trump and other world leaders.
In general, Twitter has taken a hands-off approach to political leaders, contending that publishing controversial tweets from politicians helps hold them accountable and encourages discussion. Last year, it said it would consider slapping warning labels on some tweets by world leaders, noting that such individuals rules “aren’t entirely” above the rules.
Nearly a year after announcing it, Twitter has yet to use such labels.
There is no mystery to the death of Lori Klausutis. Medical officials ruled that the aide, who had a heart condition and told friends hours earlier that she was not feeling well, had fainted and hit her head. Foul play was not suspected.