Twitter shares slumped Wednesday after President Trump accused the social media giant of interfering in the 2020 election when it fact-checked his tweet suggesting mail-in ballots would prompt widespread voter fraud.
The fact-check was conducted by Twitter, and has not been applied to any other public official, though the platform has blocked or partially blocked posts in the past and deleted accounts including those of political provocateur Alex Jones and his organization, Infowars.
“Twitter came up with a rule that applies to one person,” Michael Pachter, research analyst at Wedbush Securities, told FOX Business.
"They're not treating him the way they treat everybody else,” he added. “They came up with a separate set of rules just for him, which is fact-checking, because they're too afraid of his bullying to delete the tweet or suspend him.”
The social media giant's action and Trump's response rekindled simmering frustration among Republicans who say their voices are being censored on platforms with workforces concentrated in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley.
The accusations began after U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian operatives used misleading social media posts to sway voters in the 2016 election, and the companies began working to weed them out.
In the years since, Republican lawmakers have called several Congressional hearings to explore such complaints, while Democratic lawmakers and Constitutional law experts have said the businesses have the right to control what's on their own platforms. Freedom of speech, they say, doesn't guarantee the right to amplification of that speech on a medium controlled by another individual or company.
Trump, meanwhile, has complained about "shadow-banning" of his followers to CEO Jack Dorsey, without which he says he would have even more.
As of this year, Trump's 80.3 million followers make him the ninth-most widely followed of the platform's users, according to market-intelligence firm Brandwatch.
Pachter said that while Trump is less likely than the average person to be censored because he's a public figure, “there’s a point where the public-person exception crosses the line.”
Overall, Pachter believes fact-checking “is a stupid idea on Twitter's part” and that when people post something that's harmfully wrong, Twitter should “just delete the tweet,” warn the offender and suspend them if they break the rules again.
Twitter has in the past suspended both liberal and conservative users for tweets that violated its terms of service, which state the company does not “endorse, support, represent or guarantee the completeness, truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of any content or communications” posted on its platform.
While the president's tweets are not in violation of Twitter's rules, the company is using the fact check to offer context to what it views as potentially misleading information.
The posts were labeled to provide more information about mail-in ballots, a Twitter spokesperson told FOX Business. "This decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month."
Trump suggested Wednesday he would move to prevent Twitter and other social-media platforms from discriminating against conservative voices, an action he has threatened before.
“Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct,” the president tweeted. “Big action to follow.”
Exactly what the president might attempt is unclear. While the companies have a business interest in allowing political voices from all sides to use their platforms -- since doing so widens the audience for revenue-generating advertisers -- forcing them to do so would, at the least, require Congressional action.
That's unlikely with a divided Congress in an election year further disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. And even if lawmakers passed such a bill, its constitutionality would be questionable.
In the mid-1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Florida law that required politicians attacked by a newspaper to be given equal space to defend themselves. The Federal Communications Commission dismissed a rule imposing similar requirements on television broadcasters, the so-called Fairness Doctrine, in the 1980s.