President Trump has pushed a baseless conspiracy theory about the death of Lori Klausutis, who worked for Joe Scarborough. Her husband wrote to Twitter's CEO asking that the false tweets be removed.
The widower of Lori Klausutis, whose death President Donald Trump has used to smear MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, is asking Twitter to remove the president's tweets on the subject.
Twitter said Tuesday that it would not.
In a letter to Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, last week, Timothy Klausutis said Trump had violated Twitter's terms of service by falsely suggesting that Scarborough killed Lori Klausutis in 2001 when he was a Florida congressman and she was an intern in his office. Lori Klausutis, then 28, actually died as a result of a heart condition that caused her to collapse at work and hit her head on her desk.
"An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet," Timothy Klausutis wrote in the letter, which was published Tuesday by The New York Times opinion writer Kara Swisher, "but I am only asking that these tweets be removed."
Trump has repeatedly promoted the conspiracy theory against Scarborough, who has criticised the president on his MSNBC show Morning Joe. In a series of tweets over the past several weeks, Trump has urged law enforcement authorities in Florida to "open a cold case" and suggested falsely that Scarborough "got away with murder." He had tweeted about the same conspiracy as far back as 2017.
"I'm asking you to intervene in this instance because the president of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain," Klausutis wrote in his letter. "My wife deserves better."
Twitter said Trump's tweets did not violate the company's terms of service, even though its policies say users "may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so." In tweets over the weekend, Trump encouraged his audience to "keep digging" into the circumstances of Lori Klausutis' death and suggested, without evidence, that it may have been linked to "an affair."
Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, his wife and co-host, discussed the letter on their show Tuesday morning, expressing support for Klausutis. They said they had been in touch with Twitter officials, and a Twitter spokesman confirmed the conversations.
"Whether it's the president or the people following the president, it's unspeakably cruel," Scarborough said on the show, noting that Timothy Klausutis and Lori Klausutis' family are private citizens. "These are not public figures nor have they ever been public figures."
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Twitter has long been hesitant to remove posts from world leaders, even when they contain disinformation. It has said posts from leaders are newsworthy.
There have been exceptions, especially during the coronavirus pandemic: In March, Twitter deleted posts by Presidents Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil in which they promoted unproven cures for Covid-19. But it has not deleted any of Trump's posts.
Twitter said, for example, that Trump's assertion that hydroxychloroquine showed "tremendous promise" in treating Covid-19 did not violate its policies because it was not a clear call to action that would harm the public.
Dorsey has faced multiple calls over the years to remove Trump's misleading or false statements from the platform, including the president's suggestion during a White House briefing last month that injecting disinfectant or using ultraviolet light could combat the coronavirus. Although Trump did not write about those subjects on Twitter himself, his statements led to a flood of other posts, videos and comments about false virus cures, which Twitter and other social media companies largely left standing.
While Trump has been tweeting repeatedly about Klausutis and Scarborough — including a pair of tweets Tuesday morning, after Swisher published Timothy Klausutis' letter — he has barely spoken about the death toll from the coronavirus, which will soon reach 100,000 in the United States.
Twitter clarified its policy this month, stating that it would label tweets containing misinformation about the virus, including those posted by world leaders, with three broad categories: "misleading information," "disputed claim" and "unverified claim."
But the company said it would not label Trump's tweets about Lori Klausutis.
"We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family," a Twitter spokesman, Nick Pacilio, said in a statement in response to Timothy Klausutis' letter. "We've been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly."
Pacilio did not elaborate on what changes the company would make to its product or policies.
In his letter, Klausutis said the persistence of the conspiracy theory, nearly two decades after his wife's death, was deeply painful.
"As her husband, I feel that one of my marital obligations is to protect her memory as I would have protected her in life," he wrote. "There has been a constant barrage of falsehoods, half-truths, innuendo and conspiracy theories since the day she died. I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, unfortunately it is the verifiable truth. Because of this, I have struggled to move forward with my life."
Written by: Maggie Astor and Davey Alba
Photographs by: Anna Moneymaker
© 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES