Donald Trump’s tweets pose a special problem for Twitter. Absolutely no one can be surprised that the president is using the platform to tweet false and inflammatory claims in the middle of a global pandemic and the lead-up to an election: This is the president’s signature style. His recent tweets have promoted baseless conspiracy theories about the death of Lori Klausutis, a former staffer for Republican congressman turned MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, and falsely claimed that an expansion of mail-in voting would rig the 2020 election. When Twitter took the unprecedented step of adding a fact-check link to Trump’s tweets about voting yesterday, many critics of the decision thought that CEO Jack Dorsey still had not gone far enough—they maintained that the offending tweets should come down, or that the company should kick Trump off its platform altogether.
The problem is that Trump’s critics are looking to Dorsey to solve a problem that Twitter did not create. What the president says and does is inherently newsworthy. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer tweeted yesterday, “You can’t deplatform the president of the United States.” At the moment, the duly elected president is someone who deliberately puts out divisive misinformation on social media. Twitter can surely do a better job of enforcing its own rules and flagging Trump’s worst statements—this morning, for instance, he repeated a casual insinuation that Scarborough was involved in Klausutis’s death and allegations that mail-in voting would lead to election cheating, and so far no warning labels or fact-checks are attached. But a tech company can’t change who the president is.