Twitter locks Donald Trump’s account after violence on Capitol Hill

Written by Kate Conger, Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel

Twitter on Wednesday locked the account of President Donald Trump, which prevents him from posting messages to his more than 88 million followers, after a day of violence in the nation’s capital and a string of inaccurate and inflammatory posts from the president.

The move was an unprecedented rebuke of Trump by Twitter, which has long been a preferred megaphone for the president. Twitter said Trump’s account would remain locked for 12 hours and the ban could be extended if Trump did not agree to delete several tweets that rejected the election results and appeared to incite violence. The company also said it would permanently suspend Trump’s account if he continued to violate its policies against violent threats and election misinformation.

Twitter’s action followed a torrent of criticism aimed at social media companies for their role in spreading misinformation and being a bullhorn for Trump as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building Wednesday and halted the certification of Electoral College votes.

On Twitter, users had called for the company’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, to take down Trump’s account. Civil rights groups weighed in, saying action by social media companies against calls for political violence was “long overdue.” And even venture capitalists who had reaped riches from investing in social media urged Twitter and Facebook to do more.

“For four years you’ve rationalized this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise,” Chris Sacca, a tech investor who had invested in Twitter, wrote to Dorsey and Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg. “If you work at those companies, it’s on you too. Shut it down.”

For years, Trump had built his influence with rapid-fire tweets and by reaching out to millions of people on Facebook. Since losing November’s election, he had used the platforms to challenge the election results and call them fraudulent.

Twitter, Facebook and others had long resisted cracking down on Trump’s posts and other toxic content. While the platforms had started taking more steps against political misinformation in the months before the election, they declined to remove Trump’s posts and instead took half steps, such as labeling his posts.

So when violence broke out in Washington on Wednesday, it was, in the minds of longtime critics, the day the chickens came home to roost for the social media companies. After the onslaught of questions began, Twitter and Facebook started proactively removing several of Trump’s posts from their sites, including one where the president falsely said that “a sacred landslide election victory” had been “unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”

US capitol, trump supporters police clash, us senate meeting, joe biden, mike pence, donald trump, indian express Protesters gather outside the US Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. (Photo: AP)

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube said Wednesday that they were reviewing the situation and would not tolerate calls for violence on their sites. In a statement, Twitter said it would take action against tweets that violated its policies and was “exploring other escalated enforcement actions.”

YouTube said it removed multiple livestreams that showed participants storming the Capitol building carrying firearms. It also said it would elevate authoritative news sources on its homepage, in search results and in recommendations.

“The violent protests in the Capitol today are a disgrace,” added Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman. “We prohibit incitement and calls for violence on our platform. We are actively reviewing and removing any content that breaks these rules.”

Trump also told his supporters to go home in a video that he posted on multiple social media sites Wednesday afternoon. “You have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” he said, while repeating false claims that the election had been stolen from him.

Twitter later added a label to Trump’s video, saying its claims of fraud were disputed and could lead to violence, before removing it entirely and then taking down the tweet where Trump inaccurately referred to a “sacred landslide election victory.” YouTube also deleted the video, as did Facebook, which also removed the misleading post by Trump on the “election victory.”

Lawmakers prepare to put on masks on the floor of the House of Representatives as protesters enter the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Guy Rosen, a Facebook executive, said the social network took down the video because it was “an emergency situation” and the video “contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”

Critics said the statements by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were too little, too late, after calls for violence and plans for protests had already spread on the platforms.

On Facebook, protesters had openly discussed what they aimed to do in Washington on a Facebook page called Red-State Secession for weeks. The page had asked its roughly 8,000 followers to share addresses of perceived “enemies” in the nation’s capital, including the home addresses of federal judges, members of Congress and prominent progressive politicians.

Comments left on the page often featured photos of gun and ammunition, along with emoji suggesting that members of the group were planning for violence. One post on Tuesday said people should be “prepared to use force to defend civilization.” Several comments below the post showed photos of assault rifles, ammunition and other weapons. In the comments, people referred to “occupying” the capital and taking action to force Congress to overturn the results of the elections.

Facebook said it removed Red-State Secession on Wednesday morning. Before it was taken down, the page directed followers to other social media sites like Gab and Parler that have gained popularity in right-wing circles since the election.

Those alternative social media sites were rife with Trump supporters organizing and communicating Wednesday. On Parler, one trending hashtag was #stormthecapitol. Many Trump supporters on the sites also appeared to believe a false rumor that Antifa, a left-wing movement, was responsible for committing violence at the protests.

“WAKE UP AMERICA, IT’S ANTIFA and BLM operatives who are committing the violence, NOT TRUMP SUPPORTERS!,” said one Parler account member called @Trumpfans100, offering no evidence for the claims.

Officials at Parler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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