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Twitter Flags President Trump's Tweet For The 1st Time

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

If you want to know what President Trump really thinks, just check out his Twitter feed. He uses the social media platform to share his views on everything from international treaties to TV news segments. Plenty of those views have been controversial. But now, for the first time, Twitter says the president has gone too far. The company has put a warning label on a pair of tweets he sent today about mail-in ballots. NPR's Bobby Allyn covers Twitter and joins us to explain.

Hey, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what did Trump say in these two tweets that Twitter is calling out now?

ALLYN: Yeah. So the tweet that Trump sent said, without any evidence, that mail-in ballots are fraudulent, right? This is an issue that's been in the news quite a bit, as we know. And Twitter looked at this and placed a label on it that basically says, look; people who saw this tweet, click here to get the facts about mail-in ballots. And it links to a bunch of credible news articles that, you know, dispel myths that voting by mail is in any way fraudulent. That's an unsubstantiated claim.

Yeah, but that's significant because this is the first time ever that Twitter has sanctioned the president of the United States over tweets. And as we know, many of his tweets have advanced conspiracy theories or attacked private citizens. And Twitter has gotten a lot of pushback for basically doing nothing, for, you know, setting up policies to try to combat misinformation but basically holding Trump to a whole different standard.

CHANG: Well, OK. If the tweets are misleading, why doesn't the company just take them down?

ALLYN: That's the big question. Twitter says that it, you know, treats every tweet on a case-by-case basis and that this particular one about voting by mail doesn't, you know, dissuade people from voting. If Trump went on Twitter and more actively tried to suppress the vote, Twitter says, they would take that down. But you know, a Twitter company spokesman told me that this tweet still does contain some misleading information about the voting process. And that was concerning enough for them to slap this new label on it.

And this is part of a broader push that Twitter has, you know, been advancing in recent weeks. They have started a whole new campaign to place these labels telling people when there's information about the coronavirus that is disputed or unverified or might contain, you know, even a little sort of iota of a conspiracy theory. Anything that's in dispute, they're now putting these new labels on it. But everyone was wondering, aren't these new labels going to apply to the president of the United States? And today we found out that, indeed, Twitter is going...

CHANG: Right.

ALLYN: ...To hold Trump to the same standard.

CHANG: Well, the thing is, whenever Trump tweets something controversial, there have been questions about why Twitter doesn't just take a stronger stance. Like, recently, Trump has repeatedly tweeted a conspiracy theory about a prominent Republican critic, MSNBC host and former Congressman Joe Scarborough. It involves a woman who worked for Scarborough years ago. She died after falling and hitting her head on her desk. Her widower has pleaded with Twitter to take down the president's false tweets. What is the company doing about that?

ALLYN: Yeah. In a really powerful letter, the widower wrote to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and said, you know, my request is simple - please delete these tweets. And despite that plea, Ailsa, I mean, Twitter has not removed it, to criticism, you know, across the spectrum. And so why they haven't removed it is because they says it doesn't violate their policies. Twitter says, you know, they draw lines for certain issues, including, quote, "civic integrity and voting." But I guess for accusing someone, without any evidence, of being implicated in the murder of a former staffer does not violate its policies, and Twitter is standing by that decision.

CHANG: And the president has responded to all this, fittingly, with a tweet tonight. Tell us what he said.

ALLYN: He did. So Trump just took to Twitter and accused the social media company of interfering in the 2020 election. He then doubled down on his unsubstantiated claim that mail-in balloting is fraudulent, and he also accused Twitter of stifling his free speech. And Trump wrote, quote, "I, as president, will not allow that to happen."

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Bobby Allyn in San Francisco.

Thank you, Bobby.

ALLYN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.