Image:Facebook, Twitter and YouTube removed Donald Trump’s video post to the supporters who stormed the US Capitol. Photograph: Us President Donald J Trump Twitter/EPA
Twitter and Facebook took unprecedented actions to address the spread of misinformation and the incitement of violence by Donald Trump on their platforms on Wednesday, after supporters of the president stormed the US Capitol.
Both companies locked Trump’s accounts and removed several posts from the president that cast doubt on the election results and praised his supporters, who forcibly took to the government building as lawmakers attempted to tally votes for the election.
Facebook has suspended Trump from posting to his account for 24 hours. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, also locked Trump’s account. Twitter locked Trump out of his account for 12 hours and is requiring him to delete three tweets the company says violates its policies. If he does not delete them, his account will remain suspended indefinitely, the company said in a public statement. If Trump again violates the policies, his account will be permanently suspended from Twitter.
A statement from Trump promising an “orderly transition” following Congress certifying Biden’s win was posted to Twitter by deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino.
The action is the most aggressive yet from Twitter and it comes after it joined Facebook and YouTube in removing a video post from Trump’s account in which the president praised the protestors.
As his supporters gathered on Wednesday to protest the certification of the 3 November election results, Trump in a tweet accused Vice-president Mike Pence of lacking “the courage to do what should have been done”.
In the video he shared on social media later in the day, Trump urged his supporters to “go home”, but also gave legitimacy to the falsehoods that fueled Wednesday’s attempted insurrection, calling the election “stolen” and telling the angry mob, “we love you”.
Later on Wednesday, Trump again falsely claimed his “election victory” was “unceremoniously” and “viciously” stripped away.
“In line with our civic integrity policy and recent guidance, we have placed a label on the tweet, and have significantly restricted engagement with the tweet due to the risk of violence,” a Twitter spokesman said. “This means this tweet will not be able to be replied to, retweeted, or liked.”
Facebook took a number of measures throughout the day, including the unprecedented decision to remove a post made by the president. “This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, in a tweet. “We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to, rather than diminishes, the risk of ongoing violence.”
Facebook also said it would be removing content that praises the storming of the US capitol, calls to bring weapons to locations across the US, videos and photos from protestors at the Capitol, and any “attempts to restage violence” in the coming days. It has banned the hashtag #StormtheCapitol, which was used to organize Wednesday’s actions and designated it as “dangerous”, a category the platform usually reserves for hate groups and terrorists.
Facebook has also increased rules for content moderation in private Facebook groups, where extremism experts have long warned many such militarized actions are planned. The platform is now increasing the requirement of Group administrators to review and approve posts before they can go up and disabling comments that have a high rate of hate speech.
Still, dozens of “Stop the Steal” Facebook groups and events remain live on the site.
Online activism group Color of Change launched a petition on Wednesday calling on social media firms to remove the president, saying they have ignored years of warnings about the dangers of white supremacists using these platforms to recruit, organize and fundraise.
“Big tech companies are complicit in the insurrection in DC today,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. “Enough is enough. It’s time for Facebook and Twitter to kick Trump off their platforms.”
Twitter’s suspension of Trump’s account came after it faced intense pressure on Wednesday to suspend the president’s account as tensions in Washington rose.
The company’s safety account, which shares updates and enforcements of company policy, also said it is working to rein in violent language on the platform as the attempted coup continues to unfold.
Twitter in the past has flagged several Trump tweets sharing misinformation or calling for violence. Most notably, the president’s May 2020 tweets encouraging violence against protesters demonstrating against police violence were hidden and prevented from being shared.
But the company has also faced criticism for failing to remove tweets quickly enough and calls to remove the account entirely. Though Twitter doubled down on its enforcement of policies against misinformation and calls to violence in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, it was slower to take action in days and months following. On 11 November, the site took more than an hour to flag a highly misleading video shared by Trump. It was retweeted more than 70,000 times before the platform took action.
Facebook has also faced criticism for its role in promoting misinformation and allowing armed groups to organize. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced intense criticism for the company’s decision to leave up the presidents’ message inciting violence against protesters demonstrating against police violence, as companies like Twitter removed them.
Facebook also began to remove militias from its platform in 2020 August, months after it was found thousands of extremist groups were using the site to organize anti-Democratic, armed actions, a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin organized on Facebook left two dead, and the violent kidnapping of Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer was planned on the platform.
“The violent protests in the Capitol today are a disgrace,” a Facebook spokesman said. “We prohibit incitement and calls for violence on our platform. We are actively reviewing and removing any content that breaks these rules.”