Facebook and Twitter have temporarily locked Donald Trump’s accounts after the US president repeated false claims of election fraud while a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington, in the social media companies’ most significant rebuke of a world leader.
Facebook said on Wednesday evening that it would freeze the president’s official page for 24 hours, “meaning he will lose the ability to post on the platform during that time”, citing “two policy violations”.
Twitter also said that it would suspend the president’s account for 12 hours for “repeated and severe violations” of its civic integrity policies, which ban misleading posts designed to interfere in the election process.
It added that future violations of its rules by Mr Trump’s account would result in its “permanent suspension”.
Mr Trump posted a video on his social media pages on Wednesday afternoon in which he told the Washington protesters to “go home” — while also reiterating claims that the election was “stolen” and “fraudulent”.
He also added described the dramatic events in the Capitol as the result of an “election victory” being “viciously stripped away from great patriots”.
The suspensions came amid rising anger about the role of the social platforms in facilitating the organisation and incitement of violence and hate speech, as well as the spread of misinformation by rightwing groups and the US president himself.
But the decisions to discipline the president on Wednesday marked a dramatic escalation by social media platforms, which have been vital mouthpieces for Mr Trump and to date have only labelled or removed his rule-breaching posts.
The takedowns also raised questions as to how the president’s accounts will be handled in the lead-up to the inauguration of Democratic president-elect Joe Biden on January 20, after which Mr Trump will leave the White House.
Google’s YouTube was the first platform to take action against the president, removing the video for breaching recently introduced policies that ban claims of widespread election fraud. However, it has not blocked the president’s account.
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, said that the social media platform took down the video “because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence”, describing the situation in a post on Twitter as an “emergency”.
Facebook also said it was taking other emergency measures, such as automatically disabling comments on posts in groups that “start to have a high rate of hate speech of content that incites violence”, and requiring more group administrators to vet comments before they are posted.
Still, the platforms faced growing pressure from activists and online safety experts to better curb the amplification of calls to violence or even to ban the president altogether.
Alex Holmes, a member of Twitter’s external Trust and Safety Council, told the Financial Times: “By continuing to allow the president of the United States to use social media freely, the platforms are threatening public safety.”
He added: “Twitter and all platforms now need to silence Trump while he continues to fuel fear and disinformation, his follow up social media has come short of the message of peace needed, this ban should be immediate.”
Chris Sacca, one of Twitter’s earliest investors, accused Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive, and Jack Dorsey, Twitter head, of “having blood on [their] hands”, adding: “For four years you’ve rationalised this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise.”
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