Twitter banned President Donald Trump’s account Friday, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The social platform has been under growing pressure to take further action against Trump following Wednesday’s deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Twitter initially suspended Trump’s account for 12 hours after he posted a video that repeated false claims about election fraud and praised the rioters who stormed the Capitol.
Trump did manage to momentarily skirt his Twitter ban by tweeting from the @POTUS account, the official account for the President of the United States, which remains live.
In the tweets, which have since been deleted, Trump blamed Twitter employees for coordinating with Democrats to remove his account from their platform “to silence me – and YOU, the 75,000,000 great patriots who voted for me.” He went on say that he predicted this would happen and that he would have a “big announcement soon.”
Twitter says using another account to evade a suspension is against its rules, and that while it won’t ban government accounts like @POTUS or @WhiteHouse, it will “take action to limit their use.”
Twitter’s move deprives Trump of a potent tool he has used to communicate directly with the American people for more than a decade. He has used Twitter to announce policy changes, challenge opponents, insult enemies, praise his allies and himself – and to spread misinformation, flirt with inciting violence and denounce targets of his ire in capital letters.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Twitter declined to make CEO Jack Dorsey available and had no further comment.
Twitter has long given Trump and other world leaders broad exemptions from its rules against personal attacks, hate speech and other behaviours. But in a detailed explanation posted on its blog Friday, the company said recent Trump tweets amounted to glorification of violence when read in the context of the Capitol riot and plans circulating online for future armed protests around the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
In those tweets, Trump stated that he will not be attending the inauguration and referred to his supporters as “American Patriots,” saying they will have “a GIANT VOICE long into the future.” Twitter said these statements “are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.”
The company said “plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.”
Twitter said its policy enables world leaders to speak to the public, but that these accounts “are not above our rules entirely” and can’t use Twitter to incite violence. Trump had roughly 89 million followers.
Trump’s persona on Twitter has long functioned as a mix of policy announcements – often out of the blue; complaints about the media; disparagement of women, minorities and his perceived enemies; and praise for his supporters, replete with exclamation marks, all-caps, and one-word declarations such as “Sad!”
He has fired numerous officials on Twitter and his posts, like his speeches at rallies, are a torrent of misinformation.
On Friday, Twitter also permanently banned two Trump loyalists – former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell – as part of a broader purge of accounts promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“Given the renewed potential for violence surrounding this type of behaviour in the coming days, we will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content,” Twitter said in an emailed statement. The company also said Trump attorney Lin Wood was permanently suspended Tuesday for violating its rules, but provided no additional details.
The company says that when it determines a group or campaign is engaged in “co-ordinated harmful activity,” it may suspend accounts that it finds primarily encourages that behaviour.
Social media companies have been under intensified pressure to crack down on hate speech since a violent mob egged on by Trump stormed the Capitol. Dozens of QAnon social media accounts were hyping up Trump’s Jan. 6 rally in the heart of Washington, expressing hope that it could lead to the overturn of the election results.
Other tech companies also acted against Trump’s accounts, citing threats of violence. Snapchat locked Trump’s account “`indefinitely.” Twitch, the live-streaming site owned by Amazon and used by Trump’s campaign to stream speeches, disabled Trump’s account until he leaves office. E-commerce company Shopify shut down two online Trump memorabilia stores.
YouTube announced more general changes that will penalize accounts spreading misinformation about voter fraud in the 2020 election, with repeat offenders facing permanent removal. Reddit on Friday banned a forum for Trump supporters, called “donaldtrump.”
Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, on Thursday suspended Trump’s account for at least two weeks, and possibly indefinitely.