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Twitter CEO stands by fact-check on Trump's tweets as the White House prepares an executive order on social media bias

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Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence in use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he stands by the company’s decision to fact-check two tweets by President Donald Trump, even as it has attracted intense criticism by Trump and his allies. The statement comes as the White House is preparing an executive order that would target social media companies for alleged bias in their content moderation strategies.

In a series of Tweets late Wednesday, Dorsey addressed the firestorm created by the company’s decision to label Trump’s tweets with a fact-check for the first time. Twitter added a link under two of Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots Tuesday that said, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” When clicked, the links directed users to a page that said, in part, “Trump falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election.’ However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.”

On Wednesday, Dorsey stood by his stance that Trump’s tweets “may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots),” but said Twitter would update the link on the tweets “to make this more clear.”

“This does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth,'” Dorsey wrote. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

Dorsey’s announcement comes shortly after the White House announced that Trump would sign an executive order about social media companies on Thursday. According to a draft of the order obtained by CNBC, Trump would direct the Federal Communications Commission to propose and clarify regulations of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It would also encourage the Federal Trade Commission to take action against companies engaging in “deceptive” acts of communication. The working draft of the order cites Twitter by name.

The statute targeted in the executive order is commonly criticized by lawmakers across the political spectrum for shielding Big Tech companies from liability for their users’ content. Section 230 was created to allow online platforms to engage in “good Samaritan” moderation of “objectionable” material without being treated like a publisher or speaker. In effect, some conservatives have claimed, it also allows them to get away with removing political views they object to. Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have vigorously denied such accusations.

Ahead of the White House’s announcement about the executive order, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he would introduce legislation “to end these special government giveaways.” He’s previously introduced a bill that would grant companies the liability protection if they submitted to audits to ensure their algorithms and content-removal practices are “politically neutral.

“If @Twitter wants to editorialize & comment on users’ posts, it should be divested of its special status under federal law (Section 230) & forced to play by same rules as all other publishers,” Hawley wrote in a tweet.

Trump railed against Twitter for its initial decision to label his tweets, saying the company was “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election.”

“Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” Trump wrote in a tweet Tuesday.

Twitter has been very cautious overall with its use of fact-checks on posts by world leaders. It released a policy last June to address the ways it would deal with speech by world leaders, exempting them from certain standards it holds for other users but giving it the ability to take action in the most extreme cases. Twitter has reasoned that most speech by such figures should remain accessible since it is in the public interest, but that action is needed when those statements could cause real-world harm.

Twitter had refused to label a series of Trump’s tweets from earlier this month that included an unfounded accusation that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough should be investigated over the death of his former staffer nearly 20 years ago while he was a congressman. A medical examiner at the time concluded that the 28-year-old had fainted in his district office in Florida due to an undiagnosed heart condition and hit her head on the way down, finding no evidence of foul play. Scarborough was in Washington, D.C., at the time.

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