Twitter's Flagging of Trump's Post-Election Tweets Is Haphazard, Irrational, and Ineffectual

What is the platform accomplishing by calling further attention to the president's wild claims of voting fraud?


Illustrating again the haphazardness of Twitter's ineffectual attempts to police President Donald Trump's comments on the platform, the company has flagged a bunch of the his post-election tweets as potentially "misleading about an election or other civic process." While a private company has a right to impose whatever rules it wants on people who use its services, the rationale for these decisions is highly dubious.

Trump says things that are not true all the time, and so do many other Twitter users. Suppressing, correcting, or flagging all of those misrepresentations would be a hopeless task, and Twitter does not purport to try. But the company pays special attention to tweets that it views as "manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes."

Some of the rules laid out in Twitter's "civic integrity policy" seem relatively straightforward.

"We will label or remove false or misleading information about how to participate in an election or other civic process," the company says. A Twitter user would violate that prong of the policy by providing incorrect information about who can vote or how, when, or where they can do so.

"We will label or remove false or misleading information intended to intimidate or dissuade people from participating in an election or other civic process," Twitter says. Since this rule hinges on intent, it is fuzzier than the first one. The examples the company gives include "misleading claims that polling places are closed" and "misleading claims about long lines, equipment problems, or other disruptions at voting locations." On its face, the policy allows such claims when they are honestly mistaken—unverified rumors, for instance—as opposed to deliberate attempts at voter suppression.

While both of these rules are rationally related to the goal of preventing Twitter users from "manipulating or interfering in elections," the same cannot be said for the third prong of the policy, which is the one that the company invoked when it flagged the president's post-election tweets. "We will label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process," Twitter says. That includes "disputed claims that could undermine faith in the process itself, such as unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results." It also includes "misleading claims about the results or outcome of a civic process," such as "claiming victory before election results have been certified."

The Trump messages that Twitter flagged certainly seem to fall into one or both of those categories. "We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election," the president tweeted on Tuesday night. "We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!" The next day he elaborated on that theme: "Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the 'pollsters' got it completely & historically wrong!"

Here we have, implicitly or explicitly, "unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, [or] vote tallying." Another flagged Trump tweet, posted yesterday, claimed that in Michigan, where Joe Biden seems to have won by nearly 150,000 votes, "there was a large number of secretly dumped ballots as has been widely reported!" Similarly, Trump claimed "they are working hard to make up 500,000 vote advantage in Pennsylvania disappear — ASAP. Likewise, Michigan and others!"

In two flagged tweets today, Trump promised legal action against these alleged machinations. "All of the recent Biden claimed States will be legally challenged by us for Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud," he said. Plenty of proof—just check out the Media. WE WILL WIN! America First!" Later he added, "STOP THE FRAUD!"

Another three-word, all-caps message that Trump tweeted today—"STOP THE COUNT"—is unflagged so far, although the gist is similar. Likewise this tweet from yesterday: "Our lawyers have asked for 'meaningful access', but what good does that do? The damage has already been done to the integrity of our system, and to the Presidential Election itself. This is what should be discussed!"

Nor was this tweet from yesterday flagged, although it clearly implies that election fraud denied a Republican candidate his rightful victory: "Wow! It looks like Michigan has now found the ballots necessary to keep a wonderful young man, John James, out of the U.S. Senate. What a terrible thing is happening!" This Wednesday tweet likewise was not flagged, although it also intimates election fraud: "They are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!" Also unflagged: "How come every time they count Mail-In ballot dumps they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?" By leaving such messages unflagged, Twitter invites users to infer that they are not "misleading about an election."

By contrast, this message from this morning was flagged: "ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED!" As a statement of fact, that is obviously not true. But it can also be understood as a summary of what Republicans hope to achieve by legally challenging mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but did not arrive until afterward.

The problem is not just that Twitter cannot seem to apply its own rule consistently, even to its most conspicuous user. That difficulty reflects the ambiguity, subjectivity, and wide breadth of the rule, which can be read to encompass any unsubstantiated allegation of election impropriety, including claims Republicans plan to make or are already making in litigation. And that's leaving aside the difficulty of divining Trump's intent. If he truly believes what he says, he views his wild charges as legitimate grievances, which means they are not "intended to undermine public confidence in an election," let alone to "manipulat[e] or interfer[e] in elections."

The rule that Twitter is trying to apply has nothing to do with voter suppression, since all ballots already have been cast. Instead Twitter is attempting to preserve "public confidence" in the election system, a much broader goal that could justify suppressing or limiting access to all manner of potentially misleading messages, including not just allegations of fraud but also critiques of the Electoral College, speculation about the ignorance of voters, and arguments that voting is inherently immoral because it implicitly condones the unjust use of force. That's a can of worms Twitter may regret opening.

There is also the question of what practical effect Twitter's warnings have. When a tweet is flagged for violating the civic integrity policy, you have to click on "view" to see the post. Far from limiting the reach of the president's prevarications, the warning, coupled with the extra step, makes the flagged tweets seem especially worth reading, if only to see the latest ridiculous thing the president has said, which evidently was so outrageous that it prompted Twitter to intervene.

In any event, what Trump says on Twitter is also what he says in many other forums, including his weird Election Night speech, which was widely covered by news outlets notwithstanding all the outlandish claims it included. Americans, regardless of their political leanings, are understandably curious about what the president of the United States thinks, even when—especially when—what he thinks is patently absurd. What is Twitter accomplishing by delaying that knowledge for a fraction of a second?

NEXT: Voters Used Ballot Initiatives To Defy Power-Mad Politicians

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  1. Hardly wild claims, if you were doing your job and investigating instead of writing stories by Twitter we would have more solid info. But in the tank bootlicking media types cannot be expected to do that anymore, and if they do they get banned or blocked by Homeless Jack the Obertwittenfurher.

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    2. Irony, given Scott Adam’s has been tweeting this afternoon about statistical analysis utilizing Benford’s Law, showing that voter sums in the SoS data provided by MI and others, are likely not the result of real voting returns. Basically, in any large set of financial numbers, the leading digits follow a histogram fairly precisely. When they don’t, it can be an indication the numbers were made up.
      Here’s the tweet he retweeted:

      1. There seems to be some dispute about whether Benford applies to elections. Not being a statistician, I really have no idea. Though it does seem odd that Trump’s votes would follow and Biden’s wouldn’t if that were the case. That is, I’d expect both to be equally divergent.

        1. It doesn’t seem like it would naturally be a result in election returns. Shrug. I only know enough statistics to lose money gambling.

          That said, there’s commentary that it was a big way that people knew fraud was being committed in Iran’s either 2007 or 2009 elections.

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        2. We have 2 examples of large batch votes going 99% biden. This is so wildly divergent from every poll update it would be investigated by any statistician. It is more than 6 standard deviations away from norm. An extreme rare occurrence but has happened multiple times on Wisconsin, Michigan, and PA.

          Likewise counties are now explaining how they returned more ballots than requested.

          There are also weird statistical deviations between who voted for President and the vote margins of the senators and house.

          The numbers make no statistical sense.

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    3. Sullum is a tool. Shameless tool who is sticking to his assigned narrative.

      Steoigrapher with kneepads.

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    4. What a weird article. Of course Twitter should label Trump’s lies as lies.

      1. The lefty globalist weighs in. Good ole no team globalist chipper.

    5. Trump confiused that voting and ….READ MORE

  2. The level of support Trump mustered amid a recession is astounding. And I see no good reason to doubt the polls in regards to people’s attitudes regarding his demeanor. Amid a 120 year record turnout for an election, people who can’t stand Trump personally voted for him anyway.

    I see two likely explanations:

    1) The issues.

    If they don’t like him, they like where he is on the issues.

    2) They hate the progressives and their elitist bullshit.

    This censorship by Twitter is one example.

    1. I am guessing number 2 is the bigger factor. Single issue voters were always most likely going to turn out. Looking at the CA props that passed and failed it looks like even the prog capital of the world isn’t on board with the prog agenda. Not to mention the reason Biden was nominate was because he didn’t go full woke with the rest of the Dems during the primary.

      Also I submit 3) people were stuck at home bored and paid more attention to politics during the Covid lockdown. Just conjecture on my part but seems plausible.

  3. “What is the platform accomplishing by calling further attention to the president’s wild claims of voting fraud?”

    Slowly but surely convincing libertarians that they are actually an arm of the socialist democrat party, and not a platform for free speech?

    1. “What is the platform accomplishing by calling further attention to the president’s wild claims of voting fraud?”

      How ’bout dodging an antitrust investigation by the incoming progressive administration that has already promised to cleanse social media of “conspiracy theories”?

      Is Sullum not keeping up with current developments on this?

      1. Reason as a platform… sorry, publisher has whiffed some of the biggest cultural issues of the late 20th century which are now resonating in every corner of the land.

    2. Oh way ahead of that. Still don’t want the feds to regulate them. If I owned stock in Twitter, I’d sell. After the election if Trump still uses them for shame on him and if he leaves I see its stock dropping in value. He’s one of their largest talents. Jack Dorsey is like Billy Martin fighting with Reggie Jackson…its not going to work out for him.

  4. Twitter should leave Trump’s posts as they are and label his account “Compulsive Liar” in bright red.

    1. That should be easy, just copy Jack Dorsey’s profile.

  5. The Ministry of Truth is just finding its feet.

    It will perform much better next election.

  6. Market data shows that the 18-24 demo want their coroprations to have values. So at some point, you gotta take sides.

    Good on you, Jack Dorsey. Your AI Truth.Filter() API bot is working splendidly. Keep up the good work. Go BLM!

  7. …and Ineffectual

    No, it was definitely effectual.

  8. Do you know how much joy I get from thinking about Trump in the Whitehouse, pounding out these tweets, typing whatever thought comes to his mind?

    Then, I get even more joy from thinking about people thinking they need to counter every tweet, going instantly to 10 on the anger meter, stewing in the idea that they’re going to save the democracy by pointing out every wrong and every “untruth” as part of the Twitter resistance.

    I’m going to miss these last four years.

    1. As Dennis Miller said about the the press’ insatiable need to hang on to and respond to every Trump Tweet:

      The man doesn’t drink, shitposting on twitter is his evening Cognac.

    2. If the left is allowed to steal this election, you’re going to have much greater concerns

      1. How do you stop them? I am sure they have paper ballots to back up the vote dumps.

        They prototyped this getting Al Franken into the Senate.

        1. Well, that’s the question.
          Would be good if the courts do the right thing.
          Otherwise it’s massive bloodshed, either through leftist totalitarianism or civil war.
          Look to Venezuela for the most recent example of how this plays out.

      2. about how to deal with no dick internet keyboard warriors? theres already a decent method.

        take the L little bitch, you cant and wont do fuck’all

        1. Bye, eunuch.

  9. Would Twitter’s policy flag a post about how voting is irrational?

    What if someone pointed out that the plurality of voters didn’t vote?

  10. After the election stuff, win or lose, he needs to go exclusively to Parler or some other alternative.

  11. You know they could avoid all this by simply establishing basic procedures and practices intended to protect the integrity of the operation, instead of advocating for practices that specifically call into question its integrity (ie accepting ballots for days after the election without postmarks – not that it matters since that can be faked too)

    Even IF everything is being done with 100% legitimacy (and that’s a big if considering the places with the greatest questions are unsurprisingly places known for being openly corrupt), by not establishing best practice procedures we have only the word of the people involved that its being done with integrity.

    1. Oh, but that’s racist. DEAD LIVES MATTER!

  12. >>calling further attention to the president’s wild claims of voting fraud?

    so doing your job while you cheerlead? write about the fraud.

  13. What is the platform accomplishing by calling further attention to the president’s wild claims of voting fraud?

    Sweet Jesus, does anyone around here work for a profit-making enterprise?

    They’re driving outrage, selling ads, and making money. That’s how it works.

    Always follow the money.

    1. And, trying to cowtow to an incoming administration who doesn’t like them because they allow Trump to tweet.

      1. But… yes… at the end of the road, still money.

    2. “Sweet Jesus, does anyone around here work for a profit-making enterprise?”

      Maybe some of them pick up shifts at their local bar?

  14. Isn’t it a little odd that publication claiming to value freedom shows absolutely no concern about massive vote irregularities?
    They even dismiss the idea out of hand.

    1. curiouser and curiouser …

    2. Only of one believes the claim.

      1. But there are irregularities, regardless of cause.
        Voter participation, stopped and resumed counts, statistical anomalies.
        One would think anybody who values liberty would be at least slightly concerned that if there is potential cheating, the beneficiary of that cheating might be unlikely to respect restraints on their power.
        If one would seek to exert control over the outcome of an election, one would probably be more inclined to exert control of other behaviors as well.

  15. How does Reason manage to defend Trump’s efforts to dismantle the voting process? The wrong-doer here is not Twitter, it’s Trump. He swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, but when faced with an election defeat, he’s happy to tear it all down. Your headline should read, “ Trump’s Post-Election Tweets are Haphazard, Irrational, and Unconstitutional”.

    1. tweets are unconstitutional.

      1. Its right there after “Congress shall make no law giving Trump a platform.”

    2. Tweets are unconstitutional? Having a politician opinion which isn’t woke is now unacceptable..liberty is a myth….diversity/inclusion/equity over natural rights…yep got it..makes sense.

    3. “Post-election?” Fact is nobody’s even “officially” won. These various Democrat jurisdictions are slow-walking this into 72 hours after election day. If one goes by election day, actual election day, Biden’s out – and he got rolled.

      So how can there be a loser yet?

      Worth noting every other jurisdiction had no issues. Its only in urban zones totally run by Democrats that have a chance to help Biden where all the “oddities” happen. Stop being a moron.

  16. “What is the platform accomplishing by calling further attention to the president’s wild claims of voting fraud?”

    There is value in ditching political correctness and calling a liar a liar and a delusional blowhard a delusional blowhard.

    Just as it is proper and important to call a bigot a bigot, a half-educated person a half-educated person, a superstition-based argument a superstition-based argument, a lethally reckless yahoo a lethally reckless yahoo.

    This is a great meeting of Libertarians For Censorship Of Private Speakers, dumbasses as usual. The way this works is that Pres. Trump gets to say what he wishes, and others — including Twitter or Facebook or anyone else the clingers are getting lathered about — get to say what they wish about the President’s statement(s). Pres. Trump can criticize the media’s statements; the media can criticize the president’s statements.

  17. Tom Elliott
    Pa. Secretary of the Commmonwealth @KathyBoockvar blames counties returning more ballots than requested as a clerical error: “If the county’s files were not done perfectly — it might put things in the wrong category … That is now corrected.”

    Taking lessons from climate change. Various counties returned more ballots than they requested. They combust changed the numbers. No big deal.

    1. I guess they needed to hide Biden’s decline.

      1. I laughed.

        It’s that or cry.

  18. Twitter does not purport to try

    Well, except that they do. That’s the whole point. They claim to be getting a handle on this stuff which is why you should just shut up and trust their fact checkers. It’s why you’re supposed to pay attention to their warnings – because the warnings aren’t applied haphazardly and with little oversight or verification.

  19. Years of Russia!!!!! Bullshit and now Sullum thinks he’s credible calling Trump’s assertions ‘wild’???

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  21. If zombies somehow wrote a slick cloud-based API accessible on any device that makes even more zombies out of its consumers, it would be Twitter.

    They got Sullum.

  22. Twitter believes it is a sovereign country and can shit on the Bill of Rights. It can’t..nor can every corporation pushing censorship of anything they disagree with. Again the solution is pretty easy…Twitter like FB and Google should be treated as a hostile power at war with our republic and the upper management removed (deported to various former communist countries where they would feel at home), servers confiscated and new management which will not infringe on the natural rights of its users be put in place. Dorsey has declared war on America.

  23. I’m so disappointed that Reason still hasn’t written any articles investigating and exposing:
    – Hunter Biden’s e-mails documenting the Biden family’s corruption,
    – why six states stopped counting votes around midnight on election night,
    -how Trump’s huge vote leads in MI and WI suddenly disappeared in the middle of the night, or
    – how Democrat officials in Philly and Detroit have prevented observers from observing the vote count.

    I’ve saved hundreds of copies of Reason magazine during the past 40 years (because I was so impressed).

    But I’ve become so upset with Reason’s smearing of Trump and campaigning for Biden during the past six months, I’m ready to throw out all of my old copies of Reason.

    1. Yeah, that’ll teach ’em.

  24. Trump ( needs to pay attention to what he said on Twitter. Some words have obvious inducing effect. This should not be what the president should say.

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  26. “Wild claims”? You either know something the supreme court doesn’t, or you are virtue-signalling.

    Senior editor at Reason? Write better.

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