Twitter, Facebook lock Trump's accounts in confrontation over Capitol breach posts

Cristiano Lima

Twitter and Facebook locked President Donald Trump's accounts and YouTube removed one of his videos after throngs of his supporters rioted inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, marking the harshest confrontation to date between the president and the social media companies.

Twitter also threatened to permanently suspend Trump from the platform if he violated its rules again — even as a chorus of Democrats, civil rights activists and others urged the company to kick him off now for stoking attacks on the legitimacy of his election loss.

In a 62-second video posted on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter Wednesday afternoon, Trump repeated his baseless claims that the presidential election had been “stolen" while urging his supporters, who had caused the Capitol to go into lockdown by swarming the House and Senate chambers, to "go home."

Twitter said it would require Trump to take down that post and two other tweets fanning his false claims about a rigged election, and that his account would remain locked until 12 hours after he did so. Trump appeared to have removed the tweets sometime Wednesday night, indicating he will regain access to his account Thursday morning, according to information provided by a Twitter spokesperson about its labeling policies.

"Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account," the company said. "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."

Facebook followed suit later Wednesday, announcing it would impose a "24-hour feature block" that would temporarily strip Trump of his ability to post. Facebook's Instagram platform said it was locking his account there too.

It marked the most severe actions taken by two social media platforms against Trump yet. A Twitter spokesperson said it was the first time the company had locked Trump's account over violations not related to claims of copyright infringement.

A flood of Democratic lawmakers called on the platforms to take more permanent action against Trump.

“Enough is enough!” tweeted House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). "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.”

The social media companies have long faced criticism from Democratic leaders, civil rights groups and other advocates that they have failed to enforce their policies against the incitement of violence on their platforms when it comes to Trump and his allies. The company has long treated world leaders differently from ordinary users in how it handles violations of its rules, citing public interest in knowledge about their messages.

YouTube removed the video, according to a company spokesperson, who said the post violated its policies against content alleging widespread voter fraud during the 2020 elections. The spokesperson said YouTube would allow users to repost the video if it contained additional educational context.

Facebook initially handled the post by adding a label that directed users to authoritative sources of information on the election and read, “The US has laws, procedures, and establishment institutions to ensure the integrity of our elections.” But it later escalated its decision by removing the post entirely, and blocking Trump from posting for a 24-hour period.

"This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump's video," tweeted Facebook integrity chief Guy Rosen. "We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence."

Twitter within minutes blocked users from replying to, liking or retweeting the post without added context, citing a “risk of violence.” But it did not say it would require Trump to remove the post until hours later, nor did it suspend his Twitter account, despite calls for that action by people and groups who said the president was using the social media platform to incite violence.

Trump used the video to continue claiming falsely that he, not President-elect Joe Biden, had won in November.

“It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side, but you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order,” Trump said in the video, hours after a crowd of rioters breached the Capitol building and invaded the House and Senate chambers.

Twitter initially restricted and limited the visibility of a tweet in which Trump appeared to justify the violence, writing: "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long."

He added: "Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"

The company also applied the same restrictions to an earlier tweet Wednesday in which the president said Pence, who had refused to use his role as president of the Senate to overturn the election results, "didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done." It later said both posts would need to be removed for Trump to regain access of his account.

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to POLITICO late Wednesday that the language on Trump's posts as of Wednesday night indicates he has removed the posts, and thus the 12-hour shot clock before he regains access to his account has begun.

The social media platforms faced fresh calls to suspend or remove Trump amid Wednesday’s unrest, which caused Capitol Hill to go into lockdown and for lawmakers to evacuate in gas masks as police dispersed tear gas against rioters.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a statement Wednesday saying that “social media companies should suspend his accounts ASAP as they would do for anyone else advocating disinformation and promoting violence."

Rashad Robinson, president of advocacy group Color of Change, tweeted Wednesday: “Enough is enough. It's time for Facebook and Twitter to kick Trump off their platforms.”