In July 2001, a 28-year-old woman named Lori Klausutis fell and hit her head on a desk at work in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. She was found dead the next morning. The medical examiner concluded that there was no foul play, and it later turned out that Klausutis had an undiagnosed heart condition.
There would be no reason today to publicly discuss this tragic accident, but for the fact that Klausutis was at the time working on constituent services for Joe Scarborough, who served as a Republican member of Congress from 1995 to 2001 and now co-hosts MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Scarborough has become a favored target of President Donald Trump, and Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to propound a baseless conspiracy theory - spread by right-wing trolls - that Scarborough was involved in the young woman's death.
Last week, Klausutis' widower, Timothy J. Klausutis, wrote a letter to Jack Dorsey, the chief executive and co-founder of the social media platform, imploring the company to take down the false tweets.
"My request is simple: Please delete these tweets," he wrote. "I'm a research engineer and not a lawyer, but reviewed all of Twitter's rules and terms of service. The President's tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered - without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) - is a violation of Twitter's community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed."
Remarkably - and yet not surprisingly - Twitter on Tuesday declined the request.
"We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family," a Twitter spokesperson said. "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."
That statement is pathetic. I'm a longstanding Twitter user - having joined the service in March 2007 - and I understand that, like any giant social media platform, Twitter can be used for both good and ill. I know that Twitter has struggled with how to handle extraordinary cases like that of Trump, who regularly uses the platform to issue false, misleading, deceitful and even hateful information. I also know that Twitter has taken steps toward better labeling of false and harmful content.
Last year, Twitter said it would flag tweets by politicians who violate its rules, but as of this writing, it has yet to do so for Trump's false statements about Klausitis. In March, it deleted posts by Presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil about unproven coronavirus cures.
There is probable cause to ban Trump from the platform altogether. Such drastic action would no doubt please Trump's many critics, but it would also probably generate a needless backlash and merely drive the conspiracy mongering into the dark web.
The solution in this case is simple: Delete the demonstrably false tweets - which clearly violate Twitter's own policies - and allow the family of Klausutis its privacy and its dignity. The fact that her widower should have to even make his anguished plea public - and the fact that Twitter has, so far, shrugged it off - speaks to the moral bankruptcy of our hyperpolarized age.
ABOUT THE WRITER
As the editorial page editor, Sewell Chan oversees the editorial board and Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion pages of the Los Angeles Times.
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