Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt co-signed a letter last week backing a Trump administration crackdown on social media companies, joining GOP counterparts in Texas, Indiana and Louisiana.
The letter, dated Sept. 2, seconded the Trump administration's request for the Federal Communications Commission to adopt new rules policing companies like Facebook and Twitter.
The administration’s July petition to the commission, they said, "promotes freedom of speech by ensuring competition through transparency."
The attorneys general said it would do that by requiring platforms to publish information about how they moderate user content and exposing them to lawsuits when they moderate posts of a certain bent without the user asking.
The Trump administration’s petition is a part of a growing backlash against social media companies from conservatives who say the platforms are censoring their viewpoints.
Schmitt and his fellow attorneys general said one obvious example came about when Twitter fact-checked one of the president’s posts warning that mail-in ballots would lead to substantial voter fraud and lead to a "Rigged Election."
"There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent," Trump tweeted. "Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed."
The letter said Twitter wrongfully suggested there was "no evidence" for Trump’s tweet "despite the fact that many experts — including the signatories to this letter — can validate that claim."
The letter did not state any evidence itself, and a statement from a spokesperson in Schmitt's office did not directly address the issue.
"We signed on to this letter because of concerns pertaining to issues of freedom of speech," the spokesman, Chris Nuelle, said. "The (Missouri) Attorney General’s Office has a long track record of being an adamant defender of free speech."
However, a number of studies have shown that while voter fraud is very rare, virtually all instances occur through absentee or mail-in ballots.
It’s not unheard of for such fraud to cause real issues in contests where a few dozen votes can swing the result, like a race for a St. Louis-based Missouri House seat in 2016 that had to be rerun.
But such issues appear to be fairly rare.
A database assembled by the nonprofit news project News 21 found just 491 cases of absentee fraud nationwide from 2000 to 2012, a time period in which hundreds of millions of votes were cast.
The few states that voted entirely by mail before the pandemic have reported similarly low levels of fraud.
The attorneys general said the Trump administration’s request, which came shortly after Twitter fact-checked him and another Trump tweet denouncing the platform, would also make it easier for them to enforce state laws, such as consumer protection statutes, online.
The letter and the petition are the latest volley in a long fight over the 1996 law known as Section 230, which effectively shields online platforms from being sued over what users post on their sites and allows them to remove or restrict access to objectionable content.
The law was intended to encourage tech companies to moderate obscene or harassing posts after courts ruled that a company that didn’t bother to moderate couldn’t be held liable for objectionable content but a company that did moderate could.
Internet companies and their lobbyists say the change has been a key enabler of the tech industry’s enormous growth in the decades since, and they’ve criticized Trump’s plan as a needless step backward.
The Internet Association, which counts Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon as members, said the administration's plan "is misguided, lacks grounding in law, and poses serious public policy concerns" in a filing last month.