This is an interesting test case for whether there’s anything Trump could do that might earn some sort of sanction from Twitter’s powers that be. Probably not. He’s their golden goose, the man who singlehandedly made their platform relevant to the entire planet moment to moment. He can’t be banned no matter what he does.
But could he be temporarily suspended, i.e. lose his posting privileges for 12 hours, or face some other reprimand? There was chatter somewhere not long ago about Twitter possibly installing a new feature in which tweets posted by, ahem, “public officials” that violate the platform’s terms of service would be marked to indicate the violation but wouldn’t be removed. The public interest in knowing what those … “public officials” are saying at a given moment is too high to justify erasing the tweet entirely.
Omar’s anticipating an argument like that, however, by emphasizing that she’s received death threats after Trump’s tweet this morning. If public reaction to a false tweet ends up putting someone in danger, doesn’t Twitter have a responsibility to remove it?
But let’s back up. Here’s Trump’s tweet:
The link at the end pointed to a tweet from MAGA superfan Terrence Williams that’s now been deleted. What was in that tweet?
Mediaite has a copy. Turns out it was a video of Omar dancing at some event. “GET THIS WOMAN OUT OF OFFICE,” Williams wrote. “Ilhan Omar partied on the anniversary of 9/11 because she believes ‘Some People Just Did Somethings.'” Is that right? Did Omar go dancing on 9/11? Because that would be insensitive.
Not crazy insensitive, perhaps, like wanting to invite the Taliban to Camp David during the week of 9/11. But insensitive, especially given the attention to her “some people did something” remarks about 9/11 earlier this year.
But no, she didn’t go dancing on 9/11. Jake Tapper blew the whistle:
2/ The president of the United States RTs the lie to his 64.4 million followers that she was dancing on the anniversary of 9/11. It's completely false, it's a smear, and no doubt it raises security issues.https://t.co/4SjI4TUELb
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) September 18, 2019
She was dancing at a CBC party on Friday night. That explains why Williams’s tweet is now gone. Either he deleted it when the lie was exposed or Twitter did. Tapper was right about security issues too, or so says Omar:
This is from a CBC event we hosted this weekend to celebrate black women in Congress.
The President of the United States is continuing to spread lies that put my life at risk.
What is Twitter doing to combat this misinformation? https://t.co/XdkRVrU7mZ
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) September 18, 2019
Lefty groups are also demanding action:
Twitter confirms to us they've removed the original lie @realDonaldTrump quote-tweeted. They must suspend Trump's account until he removes HIS tweet (as they did to Mitch McConnell recently in similar situation). Every minute, violence-inducing comments like this are spreading. https://t.co/8CBQzShZUe
— BoldProgressives.org (@BoldProgressive) September 18, 2019
Why did Trump amplify Williams’s claim that Omar went dancing on 9/11 without checking it out first? Well, because he’s Trump. President Ron Burgundy will retweet an-y-thing you put in his Twitter timeline if it happens to agree with stuff he already believes. In fact, Williams turns out to be the same guy whom Trump retweeted last month after Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. “#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead,” wrote Williams, adding “ClintonBodyCount” and “ClintonCrimeFamily” at the end of his tweet. The president deemed that worthy enough to be broadcast to the world, never mind that Epstein died in the custody of his own DOJ. Frankly, given the sort of trashy conspiracy theories that are being tweeted at Trump every day by fans and foes, it’s surprising that he doesn’t get suckered by stuff like Omar dancing on 9/11 more often. He’s never retweeted a QAnon claim, for instance, as far as I can remember. (Although I believe he has once or twice retweeted people with QAnon references in their Twitter usernames.)
Will Twitter do something, though? I suspect not, and not just because he’s their most powerful “power user.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone suspended on the platform for simply retweeting or reposting a false claim made by someone else. Normally it’s the source of the smear who’s punished — maybe Williams will lose his account but probably not the people like Trump who promoted his claim. Possibly Twitter will revisit that standard in the aftermath of this incident, forcing people to double-check spurious allegations made by others before mindlessly retweeting them on penalty of losing their own posting privileges if they amplify something false. Although if they do that, righties like Josh Hawley who are eager to regulate Big Tech will turn around and accuse them of hypocrisy: “Why should Trump lose his privilege to post for amplifying Williams’s smear when Twitter faces no accountability for amplifying that smear in the first place?” That’ll be a fun debate.