Twitter adds disinformation warning to Trump tweet hectoring FBI chief on mail-in ballots

Christopher Wray told congressional committee that Russian disinformation continues to sow discord and target Joe Biden

FBI Director updates House committee on Russian election meddling

A tweet from Donald Trump disputing the scale of Russia’s threat to the November election while also saying both Russia and China will exploit the US’s mail-in “ballot scam” has been tagged with an anti-misinformation message by Twitter.

Mr Trump’s message was addressed to the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, who testified to the House Committee on Homeland Security yesterday that Russia is clearly interfering in the presidential election, in particular targeting Joe Biden.

“I think the intelligence committee's consensus is Russia continues to try to influence our elections,” Mr Wray told the committee, “primarily through what we would call malign foreign influence, as opposed to what we saw in 2016 where there was also an effort to target election infrastructure … We've not seen that second part yet this year or this cycle.

“But we certainly have seen very active, very active efforts by the Russians to influence our election in 2020 through what I would call more the malign foreign influence side of things: social media use of proxies, state media, online journals, et cetera in an effort to both sow divisiveness and disorder, and – and I think the intelligence community has assessed this publicly – to primarily denigrate vice president Biden and what the Russians see as kind of an anti-Russian establishment. That's essentially what we’re seeing in 2020.”

Mr Trump responded on Twitter, sharing a C-Span clip from Mr Wray’s testimony and ranting that talk of the Russian threat is overplayed.

“But Chris, you don’t see any activity from China, even though it is a FAR greater threat than Russia, Russia, Russia. They will both, plus others, be able to interfere in our 2020 Election with our totally vulnerable Unsolicited (Counterfeit?) Ballot Scam. Check it out!”

At the bottom of Mr Trump’s tweet there now appears a notice from Twitter: “Learn how voting by mail is safe and secure.”

The notice links to a page featuring curated media stories explaining that mail-in voting is legal and safe, as well as a list of key points putting the reader at ease that claims of widespread mail vote fraud are baseless and the postal service is equipped to handle the expected influx of ballots.

Twitter put the same corrective link on another of Mr Trump’s tweets yesterday, this one a more straightforward false claim: “Unsolicited Ballots are uncontrollable, totally open to ELECTION INTERFERENCE by foreign countries, and will lead to massive chaos and confusion!”

However, the note has not yet been added to another tweet the president sent just six minutes later in which he falsely claimed the election was being “rigged” because some voters in North Carolina have received two postal ballots.

While the duplicate ballots have inadvertently been sent out to a small number of votes, the mailing labels used by the state carry individual voter codes that are used to verify a ballot when it is returned, making it impossible for someone to vote twice.

Asked for comment, a Twitter spokesperson said the tweet directed at Mr Wray was labelled "for making a potentially misleading statement regarding election ballots, and to offer more context for anyone who may see the Tweet.

“This action is in line with our recently-updated Civic Integrity Policy.”

The policy, which Twitter says is intended to combat any effort to undermine public confidence in elections, is designed to apply to various types of problematic tweet, including those that spread confusion about electoral processes or spread unverified or false information about an election and its aftermath.

According to a 2019 blog post from the platform, the notice applied to some of Mr Trump’s tweets is only used for verified accounts belonging to public officials and political figures with more than 100,000 followers.

Asked at the hearing what he considered the biggest threat to the integrity of the election, Mr Wray did not in fact single out Russia, but instead focused on the problem of an increasingly hostile and cynical political climate. And while he did not mention the president, his diagnosis of the problem included by implication the assault on the election’s legitimacy that Mr Trump and his allies have launched.

“In many ways what concerns me the most is the steady drumbeat of misinformation and sort of amplification of smaller cyber intrusions that contribute over time – I worry that they will contribute over time to a lack of confidence of American voters and citizens in the validity of their vote.

“I think that would be a perception, not a reality. I think Americans can and should have confidence in our election system, and certainly in our democracy. But I worry that people will take on a feeling of futility because of all of the noise and confusion that's generated. And that's a very hard problem to combat.”

This article has been updated to include a comment from Twitter.

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