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Twitter finally Fact-Checks Trump, but Still Lets him Get Away with Murder (Literally)

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has apparently finally had a crisis of conscience over the sewer of falsehoods spewed by Trump in his Twitter feed. The company flagged his tweet alleging that mail-in voting is a recipe for fraud, putting in a link to reputable news sites carrying articles showing that in fact there has been almost zero fraud in mail-in voting. There is almost zero fraud in voting in general in the United States, and anyone who tries to fear-monger on the issue is almost certainly seeking to suppress the vote, i.e., is engaging in a form of voter fraud.

Trump fired back that Twitter is interfering in the 2020 election. He is like a homeless person with dementia who nevertheless still knows exactly where to sink a shiv for maximum damage in a street fight. By bringing up election interference, Trump is trying to involve the Federal Election Commission. Its chair criticized Dorsey's decision last fall to ban political advertising entirely at Twitter, insisting that public debate is preferable.

Trump's falsehood about the danger of mail-in ballots, however, wasn't the really burning issue on the internet, though. Trump has been accusing former GOP congressman and MSNBC morning TV host Joe Scarborough of having murdered a staffer, Lori Klausutis, in 2001. As Katelyn Burns at Vox explains, the woman died of an undiagnosed heart attack. Her husband circulated on the internet an impassioned letter to Dorsey at Twitter asking him to intervene and prevent the president from dragging her through the mud with his conspiracy theory.

Twitter had already said that it would not interfere on the issue. Some Twitter users starting accusing Jack Dorsey of murder, to make the point that doing so is against Twitter rules and also hurtful.

But neither mail-in voting nor the outrageous accusations against Scarborough is the really urgent issue. Trump's inaction in late February on the coronavirus and his push in May for a premature opening of the economy, along with his discouragement of the wearing of face masks are getting large numbers of people killed.

No one in social media has stood up to him on the issue of wearing face masks or avoiding crowding, even though it is an urgent life-and-death matter.

Twitter routinely bans accounts for breaking its rules, but has let Trump act with impunity. Likewise Jeff Zuckerberg at Facebook, who although he instituted a fact-checking mechanism, has let Trump get away with murder, or at least accusations of it.

In fact, internal Facebook research in 2016-18 showed that the platform's algorithms spread around polarizing content, but Zuckerberg is said to have told concerned staffers not to bring him any more proposals for tweaking the program "for the public good."

"Polarizing content" is a euphemism for genocide. The UN slammed Facebook for its role in helping foment the genocide in Burma (Myanmar) against the Rohingya.

Google's YouTube also has an algorithm that drives viewers toward extremist videos.

The basic problem with most social media is that its business model relies on advertising, and its bottom line is at least perceived to thrive on polarization -- on getting users excited and upset and at odds with one another. Trump is the perfect social media entrepreneur, who has climbed to the top by setting people against one another and filling the air waves with lies and conspiracy theories. You wonder whether, in a world with no internet social media, Trump could ever have become president or inflicted all this social, environmental and economic damage on us.

Labeling Trump falsehoods as such and putting in a link to solid news reporting is the least they could do. But that would be a full time job, given the rate at which Trump comes up with demented postings.

Trump's positions like opposing the wearing of masks to fight Covid-19 are manslaughter on a massive scale, and he is responsible by his inaction and flawed policies for at least half of the 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the US. Now that would be worth fact-checking.

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Juan Cole is an American academic and commentator on the modern Middle East and South Asia.  He is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, Informed Comment (more...)

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