In recent months, the major platforms have become stricter and stricter with moderating what politicians post, even going beyond health information. In May, Twitter attached a fact-check label to one of the presidents’ tweets for the first time ever to give users more context about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that mail-in voting would result in voter fraud. Later that month, the platform hid a Trump tweet stating “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” because it was “glorifying violence.” Then in June, Facebook took down Trump campaign ads that featured a symbol once used by Nazis and softened its stance on giving politicians free rein to post whatever they want, pledging to take down anything that could incite violence or deprive people of the right to vote.
As Bridget Barrett outlines in Slate, social media platforms tend to be willing to be arbiters of truth for “health, manipulated media, tragic events, and civic processes,” because diverting from the institutional consensus on these issues can cause demonstrable harms. That’s likely why Facebook and Twitter pounced so quickly on these coronavirus tweets. Yet, Trump may have a workaround. Barrett points out that, for a while, Twitter did not consider the promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus cure to be misinformation, partly because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a highly unusual guidance noting that there was anecdotal proof that the drug might work. Reuters revealed, though, that the CDC had crafted the guidance at the request of the White House’s coronavirus task force. (The CDC subsequently removed the guidance.) Platforms may have become more comfortable stopping Trump, his family, and his allies from sharing harmful content, but as long as the White House can exert pressure on institutions like the CDC, social media may be partly in thrall to what the president considers to be the truth.