Twitter under pressure to remove Trump's 'horrifying lies' about death of Scarborough aide

Trump is pushing a false conspiracy theory that former US Rep. Joe Scarborough could have killed his staffer.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
3 min read

Twitter is under fire for not doing enough to combat conspiracy theories spread by President Trump.

Angela Lang/CNET

Twitter  hasn't removed tweets by President Donald Trump that falsely suggest Joe Scarborough, a former US congressman, may have murdered a staffer even as calls for the company to remove the posts mount. 

The tweets, which Trump shared with his more than 80 million followers, suggest without evidence that the staffer Lori Klausutis could have been killed by the lawmaker in 2001. The conspiracy theory has been debunked by fact-checkers and news outlets. Klausutis died when she was 28 years old after she suffered from an abnormal heart rhythm, fell and hit her head on a desk, according to Politifact.

Timothy Klausutis, Lori's husband, wrote a letter to Twitter CEO  Jack Dorsey  on May 21 asking the company to pull down Trump's tweets. The letter includes screenshots of three tweets, including one from Trump's son.

"The frequency, intensity, ugliness, and promulgation of these horrifying lies ever increases on the internet. These conspiracy theorists, including most recently the President of the United States, continue to spread their bile and misinformation on your platform disparaging the memory of my wife and our marriage," Timothy Klausutis wrote. 

The New York Times shared the letter in an opinion piece with the headline Twitter must cleanse the Trump stain.

Calls to remove Trump's tweets aren't new, but the pressure has been increasing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Twitter generally removes tweets that violate its rules, but might leave them up for public interest if they're posted by a high-profile user. The company said last year it would place a warning notice over tweets from politicians and government leaders, including Trump, that break its rules but are left up for public interest. 

"We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family. We've been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly," a Twitter spokesman said in a statement.

Trump's tweets didn't violate its rules, a Twitter spokeswoman said. The company has rules against users engaging in harassment or encouraging people to do so.

Twitter also told The New York Times that Trump's tweets would not be removed.

In one tweet on May 12, Trump tweeted "When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so. Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn't it obvious? What's happening now? A total nut job!" The tweet has more than 109,000 likes and has been retweeted about 31,000 times. It doesn't display a public interest notice.

Timothy Klausutis said in the letter to Twitter that he thinks that Trump's tweets violate the social network's rules and terms of service because they falsely suggest that his wife was murdered. 

"I'm asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that doesn't belong to him -- the memory of my dead wife -- and perverted it for perceived political gain."

On Tuesday, after The New York Times published the letter to Twitter, Trump said in a tweet that "opening of a Cold Case against Psycho Joe Scarborough was not a Donald Trump original thought." Scarborough, who is now a host for MSNBC and served in the US House of Representatives as a Florida Republican from 1995 to 2001, didn't respond to a direct message on Twitter.

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