MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Twitter may be President Trump's favorite way to communicate, but today he is lashing out at the social media platform, saying it, quote, "totally silences conservatives' voices." He is threatening to shut it down. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond joins us.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Give us the backdrop here. What exactly are Trump and Twitter feuding about?
BOND: So Trump is responding to the fact that Twitter, for the first time, labeled two of his tweets as misleading with a fact check. And in these tweets, he claimed without any evidence that mail-in ballots are fraudulent, and they would mean the election will be rigged. And so now the president's threatening to regulate social media, maybe even shut down these platforms. He says Twitter is stifling his free speech. And the company today is not commenting on these threats from Trump.
KELLY: Although, I'm wondering about the timing. The president, as we know, has a long history of tweeting misleading, even false claims. Do we know why Twitter is acting now?
BOND: Yeah, that's right. Twitter has given world leaders a lot of leeway. It says their tweets are newsworthy. But a few months ago, it said it would start cracking down on tweets, even from political leaders that break the rules. So this is a big step. It's Twitter applying this policy to Trump for the first time. And this isn't just an issue for Twitter. Facebook has also come under a lot of pressure over how Trump uses it. It's worth noting that he posted these same unsubstantiated claims about voting by mail on Facebook this week. But unlike Twitter, Facebook is not putting any warning labels on those posts.
KELLY: What is the fine line that tech companies - be it Facebook, be it Twitter, or others - that the fine line that they are trying to walk here.
BOND: Well, on the one hand, you know, they are really dedicated to encouraging free speech. And they say, you know, that's an important part of their identity. But on the other, they need to keep their platforms free from misinformation, harassment and efforts to suppress voting. And that balance becomes even more difficult to strike when you're talking about a public figure like Trump who uses social media so successfully. I spoke with Joan Donovan, who studies disinformation at the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center, and she says even just labeling this tweet is an important step if Twitter is serious about cracking down on election misinformation.
JOAN DONOVAN: Twitter is finally realizing that they are in a very powerful position, because Trump needs them in order to circulate his messages.
KELLY: Shannon, let me circle back to something I said in the intro, these accusations that Twitter and other tech companies are biased against conservatives. Would you fact-check that for us?
BOND: Well, that is something that conservatives have complained about for a while, and the president's supporters certainly have leapt on it today. They're pointing to one Twitter executive in particular. He's been a public face of the company's policies on misinformation. And in several tweets from a few years ago that have been circulated, he was critical of Trump. He compared members of the administration to Nazis. So some of Trump's supporters are lashing out at him on Twitter, of course. The company says that it's, quote, "unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions." But this is the exact kind of thing that feeds this distrust that already exists on the right. It's also worth noting that today, Twitter, Facebook and Google won an appeal in federal court dismissing a lawsuit that they were conspiring to suppress conservative views. The court says that companies aren't governments so they can't violate the First Amendment.
KELLY: One last point to put to, this threat by the president to shut down social media platforms, to shut down Twitter. Can he do that?
BOND: I had that exact question, so I asked an expert, University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks. And she says, look, I mean, Twitter is a private company, right, and it has the right to set and enforce its own rules.
MARY ANNE FRANKS: Can a public official accuse a private entity of or try to regulate or to shut down a private entity on the basis of not liking what they did? No. That would be exactly what the First Amendment protects us against - right? That's the great irony of this.
BOND: So while the president may not be able to shut down Twitter, what Trump and his supporters can do and are doing is use this latest battle to rile up his base on Twitter ahead of the election.
KELLY: All righty (ph).
Thank you, Shannon.
BOND: Thanks, Mary Louise.
KELLY: NPR's Shannon Bond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.