President Trump has a fresh feud, this time with Twitter (TWTR), the social media platform he uses to attack enemies, spread propaganda and brag. Twitter has taken some audacious steps. It labeled two Trump tweets as factually suspicious, with a blue link at the bottom urging readers to “get the facts” about mail-in voting, because Trump’s claims were bogus. It tagged another Trump tweet with a message saying it violated Twitter’s policies by “glorifying violence.” Twitter has obviously made a major strategic decision to begin policing Trump’s provocations and misstatements on the platform.
You’d be disappointed if Trump were anything less than outraged by Twitter’s action. Twitter, he now says, is interfering in the 2020 election and stifling free speech—claims Twitter should have labeled as bogus, too. Trump signed a new executive order meant to limit certain legal protections Twitter and other online businesses enjoy. It will face an immediate legal challenge and might never go into effect. But that’s beside the point.
What’s going on here is exactly what Trump wants: A fake scandal metastasizing into yet another opportunity for Trump to indulge his persecution complex and portray himself as the victim of Deep Media. Who knows if it will help him get reelected, but Trump wants to distract Americans from the awful coronavirus death toll, which recently topped 100,000, and a deep recession that has put 41 million Americans out of work. A war with Twitter is right out of the Trump playbook.
The trigger for Twitter’s action is a shameful Trump smear addressed at MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a vigorous Trump critic. In 2001, when Scarborough was a member of Congress, a 28-year-old aide died in his Florida office in a tragic accident, apparently passing out from an undiagnosed medical condition and hitting her head on a piece of furniture. Trump claims it’s a “cold case” in which Scarborough is a suspect, which is completely false. The aide’s widowed husband has asked Trump to desist, because it’s cruel to surviving family members. Trump has ignored the request and continued with the attacks, prompting calls for Twitter to suspend his account or take some other action.