Trump returns to Twitter after Facebook extends ban through inauguration
A day after the mob he urged on stormed its way into the U.S. Capitol seeking to disrupt a count of electoral votes, President Trump faced the suspension of his Facebook account through the end of his term in office, the lingering threat of a similar action by Twitter and freezes or suspensions on other valuable social media and e-commerce channels under his control.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the suspension Thursday morning in response to Trump’s messages condoning the rioters the day before. As members of Congress sheltered in place and law enforcement officers sought to secure the building, Trump posted a message saying his “sacred landslide election victory” had been “viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” A subsequent video message posted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube urged rioters to “go home now” but reiterated the baseless claim of a stolen election.
The three platforms removed the video, and Facebook and Twitter issued temporary blocks on the president’s accounts Wednesday. Facebook then went a step further, freezing Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts through at least Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated. Separately, Snapchat said it had also locked his account and would reassess later.
“We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
Twitter imposed a temporary freeze on Trump’s account Wednesday but lifted it Thursday after he deleted messages that violated its safety policies. The company warned, “Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account.”
Trump marked the restoration of his privileges with a video message that diverged in tone and content sharply from his earlier posts. In it, he condemned Wednesday’s rioting as a “heinous attack” and said “the demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy.”
“Tempers must be cooled and calm restored,” he said in the nearly three-minute video, which contained only brief and vague allusions to the integrity of elections. “A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”
Facebook and Twitter have faced scrutiny over their lax moderation of Trump’s accounts throughout his time in office and particularly during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. For years, the companies have scrambled to revise their policies on misinformation and hate speech in response to ever-escalating challenges from the White House and supporters of the president.
The challenge has been a complicated and unprecedented one, raising questions about freedom of speech and whether the president of the United States should be afforded greater leeway than the average user to espouse his views even when they are proven to be inaccurate or appear to incite violence.
In recent months, the social media giants have increasingly leaned on disclaimers to flag certain posts as disputed, stopping short of shutting down or suspending Trump’s accounts.
“Over the last several years, we have allowed President Trump to use our platform consistent with our own rules, at times removing content or labeling his posts when they violate our policies,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We did this because we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech. But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
The Menlo Park, Calif., company has also faced criticism for not taking more aggressive measures against extremist groups that have used its technology to organize. Wednesday’s action by Trump supporters was planned largely on tech platforms and promoted by the president.
In an all-hands meeting Thursday, Zuckerberg and other Facebook officials denounced the Capitol riot and said they were confident they had taken the right actions, said BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac, who obtained access to the call and live-tweeted it.
Critics of the tech companies said the suspensions were overdue and insufficient. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), incoming chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, slammed the president for his “sustained misuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence.”
“As I have continually said, these platforms have served as core organizing infrastructure for violent, far-right groups and militia movements for several years now — helping them to recruit, organize, coordinate and in many cases (particularly with respect to YouTube) generate profits from their violent, extremist content,” he said in a statement.
In a scathing statement Thursday afternoon, Michelle Obama called upon tech companies to do their part for “true patriotism.”
“Now is the time for Silicon Valley companies to stop enabling this monstrous behavior — and go even further than they have already by permanently banning this man from their platforms,” she said. Obama urged the companies to enact “policies to prevent their technology from being used by the nation’s leaders to fuel insurrection.”
Even prominent executives who had previously supported allowing the president to remain on the platforms have reversed course.
“I have long been a vocal defender of @Twitter’s permissiveness of @realDonaldTrump’s otherwise-violations of Twitter Rules,” Adam Sharp, a former Twitter executive who started the company’s government handle, wrote in a thread. He explained that stance as being based on a “‘newsworthiness’ exemption” and a belief that “there was something exceptional about the presidency.”
“The time for that sunlight has long passed,” Sharp, now the chief executive of the Emmys, said. “No one can claim ignorance to his delusion; the citizenry has already chosen whether to swill the toxic Kool Aid.... Accordingly, @Twitter should follow @Facebook’s lead and suspend @realDonaldTrump’s account.”
Other companies also responded with strong rebukes of Trump and Wednesday’s events.
Streaming service Twitch said it had suspended Trump’s channel “in light of yesterday’s shocking attack on the Capitol.” The channel will remain down until he leaves office and then the Amazon-owned company will “reassess,” a spokeswoman told Bloomberg.
E-commerce platform Shopify closed two online stores affiliated with Trump, trumpstore.com and shop.donaldjtrump.com, saying it “does not tolerate actions that incite violence.”
“Based on recent events, we have determined that the actions by President Donald J. Trump violate our Acceptable Use Policy, which prohibits promotion or support of organizations, platforms or people that threaten or condone violence to further a cause,” the Canadian company said in a statement. “As a result, we have terminated stores affiliated with President Trump.”