U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to wield the powers of the federal government to shut down major social media platforms ahead of November’s general election — comparing what he said is their malign influence over the 2020 campaign to his baseless claims of large-scale mail-in voter fraud.
“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
“We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country,” he continued. “It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”
Trump’s warning, which represented an escalation of his previous rhetoric targeting the tech giants over purported bias against conservative expression, came after Twitter flagged two of his posts on Tuesday with fact-check warnings. Those posts falsely asserted absentee ballots are likely to be “substantially fraudulent.”
The president later in the day lashed out against the company for the first-of-its-kind intervention on his social media feed, declaring online that Twitter “is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election” and “completely stifling FREE SPEECH.”
Facebook, Twitter and other high-profile titans of the tech industry have come under bipartisan criticism by congressional lawmakers in recent years for their use of Americans’ personal data. Additionally, Democrats accuse the social media platforms of insufficiently countering the spread of misinformation, while Republicans charge that the companies disproportionately seek to silence conservative opinions.
Last year, the Trump administration asked social media users to report directly to the White House if they believed companies like Facebook and Twitter had punished them for their political views.
However, the White House did not disclose what the administration planned to do with the material it collected, contributing to suspicions that the effort was designed mainly to harvest email addresses for the president’s reelection campaign.
Public-interest groups and civil liberties advocates say there is no clear evidence that tech companies suppress conservative viewpoints.