In an unprecedented step, Facebook and Twitter suspended U.S. President Donald Trump from posting to their platforms Wednesday following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.
Twitter locked Trump out of his account for 12 hours and said that future violations by Trump could result in a permanent suspension. The company demanded the removal of three of Trump’s tweets, including a short video in which he urged supporters to “go home in peace” while also repeating falsehoods about the integrity of the presidential election.
He posted the video more than two hours after protesters entered the Capitol, interrupting lawmakers meeting in a joint session to confirm the electoral college results and certify president-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Twitter said Trump’s account deleted the posts but that it had threatened to extend his suspension if they were not.
This means that the account of @realDonaldTrump will be locked for 12 hours following the removal of these Tweets. If the Tweets are not removed, the account will remain locked.
Our public interest policy — which has guided our enforcement action in this area for years — ends where we believe the risk of harm is higher and/or more severe.
In a tweet, the company said it would continue to evaluate the situation in real time, including examining activity on the ground and statements made off Twitter.
Facebook and Instagram, which Facebook owns, followed up in the evening, announcing that Trump wouldn’t be able to post for 24 hours following two violations of its policies.
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, said on Twitter earlier Wednesday that Trump’s video was removed from Facebook because it “contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”
The White House did not immediately offer a response to the actions.
YouTube said it also removed Trump’s video, but versions of it remained available as of Wednesday night.
Some say too little, too late
While some cheered the platforms’ actions, others noted that the companies’ actions follow years of hemming and hawing about what to do about the spread of dangerous misinformation and incitement to violence that some say contributed to Wednesday’s events.
“This is what happens,” said Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University in New York state and an expert on social media who sees a direct link between Trump’s posting of propaganda and false information on social media and Wednesday’s protests.
“We didn’t just see a breach at the Capitol. Social media platforms have been breached by the president repeatedly. This is disinformation.”
Grygiel said the platform’s decision to remove Trump’s video — and Twitter’s suspension — are too little, too late.
“They’re creeping along towards firmer action,” Griegel said. “Social media is complicit in this because he has repeatedly used social media to incite violence. It’s a culmination of years of propaganda and abuse of media by the president of the United States.”
This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video. We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.
Twitter first restricted, then removed video
Twitter initially left Trump’s video up but blocked people from being able to retweet it or comment on it. Only later in the day did the platform delete it entirely.
Trump opened his video saying, “I know your pain. I know your hurt. But you have to go home now.”
After repeating false claims about voter fraud affecting the election, Trump went on to say: “We can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”
Republican lawmakers and previous administration officials had begged Trump to make a statement to his supporters to quell the violence.
Trump’s video statement came as authorities struggled to take control of a chaotic situation at the Capitol that led to lawmakers being evacuated from the building and the death of a woman who was shot during the storming of the building.
Trump has harnessed social media — especially Twitter — as a potent tool for spreading misinformation about the election. Wednesday’s riot only increased calls to ban Trump from the platform.
“The president has promoted sedition and incited violence,” Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement.
“More than anything, what is happening right now at the Capitol is a direct result of the fear and disinformation that has been spewed consistently from the Oval Office.”
WATCH | How the chaos at the Capitol unfolded: