Twitter boots Trump

Cristiano Lima

Twitter kicked President Donald Trump off his signature social media platform Friday — deepening his political isolation as he faces widespread rebukes and the prospect of a second impeachment over his supporters' rampage through the Capitol.

The company muzzled the president of the United States three times in a matter of hours: First, it permanently suspended his personal account, @realDonaldTrump, saying his use of it posed an unacceptable risk of violence. Then, it removed a series of Trump's tweets on the White House's official @POTUS account, where he had lashed out at Twitter's decision Friday night and vowed, "We will not be SILENCED!"

And when the identical messages popped up later on Trump's campaign Twitter account, the company permanently suspended that account too.

Twitter announced the first move in a statement in which it said his use of the platform had forced it to act.

"After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence," the company said.

A company spokesperson said in a separate statement to POLITICO that it removed the @POTUS tweets and suspended the campaign account for violating rules against trying to evade bans.

The decisions, a day after Facebook locked Trump's account at least until President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, leave the leader of the free world cut off from two of his most potent means of communicating directly with his tens of millions of followers.

And it came amid other moves by some of Silicon Valley's biggest powers to sever communication channels used by the president and his supporters, including people who cheered or took part in Wednesday's violence. Google announced Friday night that it had suspended the popular-with-conservatives social media app Parler from its app store, citing its failure to exercise "robust moderation" over conversations that include threats of violence. (One recent message it pointed to: "How do we take back out country? It's simple...we hunt them down!") Apple has also threatened to remove Parler from its app store, BuzzFeed News reported.

President Donald Trump looks at his phone during a roundtable with governors on the reopening of America's small businesses, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump looks at his phone during a roundtable with governors on the reopening of America's small businesses, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Twitter had also purged a swath of accounts earlier Friday for espousing content related to QAnon, including those of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell.

But the biggest news on social media Friday — perhaps the biggest decision in Twitter's 14-year-history — was its move to permanently remove Trump, two days after throngs of his supporters staged a violent riot through the Capitol. The reason: Twitter said Trump's latest posts on the platform posed too great a risk to keep up, pointing to conversations "proliferating on and off-Twitter" about a second planned attack on the Capitol later this month.

In place of Trump's notoriously prolific Twitter feed, where nearly 89 million followers read his insults, conspiracy theories and threats against adversaries like "Little Rocket Man," the @realDonaldTrump page reads simply: "Account suspended."

After the ban, Trump took to the White House's official Twitter account — @POTUS — to rail against the company. But those posts were taken down within minutes.

“As I have been saying for a long time, Twitter has gone further and further in banning free speech, and tonight, Twitter employees have coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left in removing my account from their platform,” Trump wrote in the now-vanished thread. (On Jan. 20, Twitter plans to hand control of the @POTUS account to President-elect Joe Biden.)

Without elaborating, the president wrote that he would "look at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future."

After Twitter removed those tweets, the messages reappeared on the @TeamTrump account used by the president's campaign. But the company quickly suspended that account, for good.

Donald Trump Jr., who still has a Twitter account, denounced the banning of his father as "absolute insanity!" — the kind of alleged censorship his father had tried to punish using the might of the federal government.

"We are living Orwell’s 1984," Trump Jr. tweeted Friday night. "Free-speech no longer exists in America. It died with big tech and what’s left is only there for a chosen few."

The president's former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, tweeted: "Silencing people, not to mention the President of the US, is what happens in China not our country."

"The Ayatollah can tweet, but Trump can’t," tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "Says a lot about the people who run Twitter."

Graham also wrote that he is "more determined than ever" to repeal Section 230, a quarter-century-old law that shields Twitter and other online companies from most lawsuits over content posted by their users. But Trump has made the same demand in vain in recent months, and it appears even less likely to happen after Democrats take full control of Congress.

Democrats said Friday night that Trump's removal was about time.

“No private company is obligated to provide a megaphone for a malicious campaign to incite violence," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said in a statement Friday. "It took blood and glass in the halls of Congress — and a change in the political winds — for the most powerful tech companies in the world to recognize, at the last possible moment, the profound threat of Donald Trump."

Trump's ouster culminates years of friction between the outgoing president and Twitter. But it came too late for many critics of both Trump and Twitter, who say the company has allowed him to flout its rules with rhetoric such as threats of war or violence against racial justice protesters.

After his account was reactivated Thursday, Trump tweeted out two messages saying his supporters "will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form," and announcing he would not be attending President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Twitter cited those messages as motivating their decision to permanently deactivate his account.

"These two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks," the company said in its statement. It added that the tweets violated its policy on glorification of violence.

The final straw came shortly after pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol during a deadly assault, when Trump posted a series of tweets that urged his supporters to leave but continued to claim falsely that the November election had been stolen from him. Those included a tweet attacking Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to overturn the election results, and another describing the rioters as "great patriots."

Twitter and Facebook, where Trump posted some of the same messages, temporarily locked Trump’s account in response. Further rule-breaking, Twitter said, "will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account." The actions marked the harshest confrontation to date between the president and Silicon Valley companies over his incendiary posts and accounts.

Facebook and Instagram subsequently locked Trump's accounts at least through Inauguration Day. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a statement posted to his personal page the day after the mayhem.

One major platform the president appears to still have access to at the moment: Google-owned YouTube. The company announced Thursday it would begin suspending and potentially permanently removing users who violated policies against spreading baseless claims of election fraud, but Trump would need to repeatedly break those or other rules to be booted off for good.

Democratic lawmakers, civil rights leaders and other activists have long called for Twitter and Facebook to take more forceful action against Trump, with some urging for his permanent removal. But Republicans have pushed back on those efforts, accusing tech companies of an anti-conservative bias, a charge they deny.

“Enough is enough!” tweeted House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) on the night of the attack on the Capitol. "Trump is inciting violence and spreading dangerous misinformation that is undermining our democracy and our way of life. Social media continues to amplify his anti-democratic rhetoric."

He added, “It’s time for [Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey] and [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg to remove Trump from their platforms.”

Twitter's decision late Friday to boot Trump off the platform for good immediately drew muted praise from Democratic officials, who welcomed it but chastised the company for not stepping in sooner.

"Good step @Twitter. But the damage can’t be undone. And what took so long?" tweeted Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

"Thank you @twitter for taking this action," tweeted Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). "We must come together as a country to heal and find a common path forward."

Republicans swiftly rebuked the social media platform's decision Friday.

"Twitter’s permanent suspension of President Trump is beyond disturbing," tweeted Republican Rep. Diana Harshbarger of Tennessee. "Instead of fostering open debate, this move will deepen the divide in this country. Unacceptable does not even begin to describe this move."

Matthew Choi contributed to this report.