Twitter, Facebook Reach Trump Breaking Point After Siege of Capitol

Law enforcement officers guard the U.S. Capitol building after demonstrators earlier stormed the building on Jan. 6.
Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Twitter Inc.—the social media giant that for years gave Donald Trump wide latitude to rally supporters, spread misinformation and foment unrest—is on the brink of imposing a ban on the U.S. president after he used the platform to egg on a violent mob that stormed the Capitol building.

On Wednesday, Twitter said that it would require the deletion of several Trump tweets, then would suspend his account for 12 hours after they were removed. The company also said it would permanently block the president if he again violated its Civic Integrity policy, which prohibits interfering in elections. 

Hours later, Facebook Inc. said it would also lock the president’s account. “We’ve assessed two policy violations against President Trump’s Page which will result in a 24-hour feature block,” the company said, “meaning he will lose the ability to post on the platform during that time.”

Trump used Twitter as well as other social media providers, including Facebook and Google’s YouTube, to urge supporters to protest in Washington on Wednesday. After a mob of pro-Trump extremists broke into Congress, some politicians and even tech investors blamed social media for providing the president with a megaphone.

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all took steps to delete or limit the circulation of some of Trump’s recent postings in the chaos of Wednesday’s events. But those moves didn’t quell the calls to delete the president’s accounts altogether. 

“You’ve got blood on your hands, @jack and Zuck,” tweeted venture capitalist Chris Sacca, a well-known early Twitter investor. “For four years you’ve rationalized this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise. If you work at those companies, it’s on you too. Shut it down.”

Alex Holmes, who is part of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, also called on the platform to shut down Trump’s accounts. “It’s time Twitter deactivated Trump’s account for law & order!” Holmes tweeted. “Realise President of United States but action needs to be taken when someone is inciting violence & threat to safety!”

In the past, Facebook and Twitter’s line in the sand was often drawn at the prospect of real-world harm. As a result of the high bar, the companies let most of the president’s statements stay online, which led to a pileup of misinformation, critics have said. “When you don’t have the courage as the leader to tell people the truth, you end up getting people that believe the conspiracies and the false truths and you get a Capitol storm like today,” said Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois on CNN. 

As Wednesday’s chaos unfolded, tech companies tried to formulate their respective responses. A video that Trump posted asking rioters to “go home,” but also calling the election “fraudulent,” was limited on Twitter so users couldn’t like or comment on it, then blocked entirely. After labeling the same video, Facebook decided to remove it a few hours later. “This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures,” a Facebook executive tweeted

On YouTube, some pro-Trump outlets streaming the events, such as Status Coup and PT News Network, were charging money on the site for users who wanted to contribute to the live discussion. YouTube says it removed livestreams intended to incite violence, and also removed Trump’s video for misleading information about the election results. 

But even the swiftest moves on Wednesday were perceived as too little, too late. Trump has long used social media to his advantage, stoking chaos by using the microphones offered by companies like Twitter and Facebook, and even the mainstream press.

For years, Trump received special treatment on Twitter because of his status as a world leader. Those protections will end when he is no longer president, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed to Bloomberg in November

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