View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Science & Tech
28 May 2020updated 21 Sep 2021 6:18am

Twitter fact-checking Donald Trump’s tweets is performative and nothing more

We should be wary of heaping praise on social media platforms when they take so little action. 

By Sarah Manavis

On 27 May, on Twitter, a lot of people weren’t happy. For the first time in its history, the social media platform inserted fact-checking information under some of President Donald Trump’s tweets.

Trump had tweeted the day before that all postal ballots (“Mail-Ins”) sent out to people in California would be “fraudulent”. The following day Twitter inserted a tab underneath these assertions to point people towards information showing that the tweets were, in fact, untrue. 

There were three negative reactions. Firstly, some people (including Donald Trump) believed that Twitter was wrong and that actually, what Trump had said was completely true (to clarify: it wasn’t).

The second reaction was to criticise the way Twitter displayed the fact-checking — as Bloomberg reporter Sarah Frier pointed out: “The wording of Twitter’s notice at the bottom doesn’t make it sound like a warning about the tweet — it makes it sound like a warning about mail-in ballots.”

Select and enter your email address The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

And finally, the free speech wave came along, saying that even if what the President of the United States said was incorrect, with a blue checkmark next to his name to a global audience, that social media platforms shouldn’t be acting as fact-checkers and cherry-picking what to fact-check and what not to. 

But alongside the criticism came praise for Twitter and its CEO Jack Dorsey. It was immediately heralded for being the first social media giant to stand up to Trump, and was particularly praised for doing so as Trump clearly favours Twitter as a platform. Even with Trump implying repercussions for putting fact-checks on his tweets, the alerts are still up. 

Often when a social media platform makes an intervention, there will be applause, even if the action is below standard. We should be wary of knee-jerk positive reactions: in this case, praising Twitter, which has done practically nothing and also shown little inclination to do more. 

Before and after posting false information about postal ballots, Trump was pushing a variety of conspiracy theories. In the days and weeks preceding his Mail-In tweets, he had started the rumour he called Obamagate: a vague allusion to some sort of cover-up by Barack Obama relating to the Russia investigation that is hard to explain because Trump himself hasn’t explained it. 

During that same time, Trump embroiled himself in another conspiracy theory, suggesting MSNBC news anchor and ex-congressman Joe Scarborough was somehow involved in the death of one of his congressional aides, Lori Klausutis, in 2001. Since Tuesday, Trump has continued to push both of these conspiracy theories with no intervention from Twitter. Klausutis’s widower asked Jack Dorsey to remove Trump’s tweets – Twitter has publicly declined

It’s hard to argue against Twitter putting fact-checks on false information, but this isn’t where the problem lies. Beyond Trump’s tweets, the platform is riddled with antisemitic conspiracy theories, debunked claims about 5G and objectively false information relating to elections all over the world; the blatant misinformation touted by politicians is countless. 

In order for social media fact-checking to be effective, it has to be all-encompassing. At the very least, it should be all-encompassing on the one account they’re choosing to fact-check. Twitter has fact-checked one thread of tweets, a thread bookended by tweets containing conspiracy theories. It is the very definition of performative. Heaping praise merely incentivises doing so little. 

Content from our partners
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health
How can we deliver better rail journeys for customers?

Topics in this article :
Select and enter your email address The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU