Social media giants Twitter, Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram announced they were suspending US President Donald Trump’s accounts on Wednesday in an unprecedented move against the president’s favored way to address the public.
The bans came as pro-Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building in Washington DC.The riot interrupted a joint congressional session to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
Trump posted a video on Twitter and Facebook more than two hours after protesters entered the Capitol and as authorities struggled to take control of the situation.
Trump opened his video saying, “I know your pain. I know your hurt. But you have to go home now.”
He repeated claims of voter fraud in the video. He also appealed to his supporters, saying “We don’t want anybody hurt,” adding: “We can’t play into the hands of these people.”
Directly addressing his supporters in the video, he said: “We love you, you’re very special.”
Republican lawmakers and previous administration officials had reportedly begged Trump to call on his supporters to quell the violence.
Facebook said it was “indefinitely” banning Trump’s accounts, including on Instagram, according to a post by founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“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. 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,” Zuckerberg wrote.
“We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. 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.”
Facebook earlier removed Trump’s video. Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, said on Twitter Wednesday that the video was removed because it “contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”
“This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” Rosen said.
Facebook also removed a text post from Trump, which sought to justify the attack, telling supporters to “remember this day forever!”
Following the video upload, Twitter locked Trump out of his account for 12 hours. The Twitter Safety account cited “repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy.”
The company required the removal of three of Trump’s tweets, including the video, and warned: “If the Tweets are not removed, the account will remain locked.”
Trump’s account has since deleted those posts, Twitter said.
It said further violations of Twitter rules would result in permanent suspension.
“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,” added Twitter.
Twitter initially left the controversial video up but blocked people from being able to retweet it or comment on it. Only later in the day did the platform delete the video entirely.
Ecommerce provider Shopify, which hosts Trump’s online merchandise shops, said it was suspending the sites.
“Shopify 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. As a result we have terminated stores affiliated with President Trump,” it said in a statement shared with US media outlets.
The sites shop.donaldjtrump.com and trumpstore.com were both inaccessible after the statement was shared with the press.
Twitter tightened up its policies regarding content on its platform throughout 2020. This has also impacted Trump’s tweets.
In May, Twitter added a label, instructing readers to fact check the content of one of the president’s tweets for the first time. Then in June 2020, Twitter labeled one of Trump’s tweets as containing “manipulated media,” for the first time.
Since losing the November 3 presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden he has increasingly used the platform to make unsubstantiated claims about electoral fraud to his 88.7 million followers.
Many of his subsequent tweets have carried the blue label: “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
Since Tuesday morning, 38% of Trump’s tweets and retweets have carried that label.
German lawmaker Gyde Jensen told DW she was certain that Donald Trump “knows that his words matter.”
“So he has very much responsibility for what is happening. He could have stopped it [the looting and rioting inside the Capitol buildings] even earlier because his past tweets basically said ‘stay peaceful.’ But he could have said to get out of the Capitol and remove [yourself] from this violent riot.”
Manfred Weber, leader of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) — the largest party grouping in the European Parliament — told DW that social media should be much more strictly regulated to help prevent events such as the storming of the US Congress.
“We have to regulate the social media field to make sure and to guarantee that all this communication is based on the basic principles, on trust and on the fight against fake news,” Weber said in a DW interview on Thursday in Berlin.
“The lesson we can learn from the American developments is that we have to focus on what is happening in social media. What is happening is fake news.” Democracy could only work if there was proper communication between citizens and institutions, Weber added.
“We can have different ideas on how to solve the problems of today,” he said. “But you can never attack the institutions. You can never call into question the counting of votes.”
DW’s Michaela Küfner and Terry Martin contributed to this report.
kmm, aw/sms (Reuters, AFP)
Donald Trump loses social media megaphone The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deutsche Welle.