Twitter played such a powerful role in the rise of Donald Trump to President as he used it as an unmediated vehicle to speak directly to voters and set the agenda - often posting incorrect or out-of-context facts along the way.

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But could the social network's new fact-check label be his undoing? Did Twitter effectively just kill-off his chances of re-election?


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With the Covid-19 outbreak in the US far from contained, various US states are preparing to expand voting-by-mail options. Yesterday NZT, Trump, who is trailing in polls and appears to be laying the groundwork to question the election loss, tweeted, "There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent ..."

Then Twitter surprised everyone by slapping one of its long-threatened fact-checking labels on the President's tweet, plus a follow-up post in the same thread.

It had an exclamation mark and a "Get the facts about mail-in ballots" link, which in turn led to a brief post saying: "On Tuesday, President Trump made a series of claims about potential voter fraud after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an effort to expand mail-in voting in California during the Covid-19 pandemic. These claims are unsubstantiated, according to CNN, Washington Post and others. Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud."

Twitter's move hit a nerve.

Trump today threatened social media companies with new regulation or even shutting them down after Twitter added the twin fact-checks.

As I type, he is said to be preparing some kind of executive order on social media.

But AP notes the President can't in fact unilaterally regulate or close the companies, and any effort would likely require action by Congress. His administration shelved a proposed executive order empowering the Federal Communications Commission to regulate technology companies, citing concerns it wouldn't pass legal muster. But that didn't stop Trump from angrily issuing strong warnings.


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The biggest threat to Twitter's current modus operandi, according to a Bloomberg report, could come from Paul Singer, a billionaire Republican mega-donor who recently took a stake in the social network through his company Elliott Management. The pro-Trump Singer has accused Twitter of discriminating against the President, and is said to want Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey replaced.

However, Singer took his stake in February, and Dorsey is still chief executive as we approach mid-year.

It will now probably come down to whether Twitter follows through and flags further Trump tweets with fact-check labels - or whether yesterday's incident proves a one-off PR effort.

For the sake of transparent, informed democracy and medical science, hopefully it will be the former - and hopefully Twitter and other platforms will extend the practice to other leaders, too.

The latest political polls in the US. Source / RealClearPolitics
The latest political polls in the US. Source / RealClearPolitics

But expect Trump to push back hard. After holding up remarkably well during the early stages of the outbreak, his approval numbers have slumped badly over the past week. His usual tactic at such times is to dial up his outrage and division tactics. Twitter will be bracing.

Or maybe it won't.

At the end of the day, Trump needs Twitter more than Twitter needs Trump.