Facebook’s suspension marked the most aggressive penalty that any social media company has meted out to Trump over his four-year term, a period in which he has repeatedly peddled falsehoods, attacked critics and spread divisive rhetoric online. Twitter on Wednesday evening also suspended Trump for 12 hours for the first time, but the company’s blockade lifted Thursday morning — and the president had not yet tweeted.
The tech giants each took the rare aggressive steps after a violent mob stormed the House and Senate Wednesday, forcing lawmakers into a lockdown and briefly interrupting their formal process to certify Joseph Biden as the next president of the United States. In failing to act until after the deadly riot occurred, Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube have faced sharp criticism saying they should have done more, and sooner, to stop Trump from helping provoke the situation.
“While I’m pleased to see social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube take long-belated steps to address the President’s sustained misuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence, these isolated actions are both too late and not nearly enough,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), in a statement. “Disinformation and extremism researchers have for years pointed to broader network-based exploitation of these platforms.”
Critics also noted that the moves by tech companies appeared politically expedient, coming as Democrats take full control of Congress and Trump prepares to depart the White House in 13 days.
“It has not escaped my attention that the day social media companies decided there actually IS more they could do to police Trump’s destructive behavior was the same day that they learned Democrats would chair all the Congressional committees that oversee them,” tweeted Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s former communications director.
At the outset of Trump’s term, Facebook and Twitter chose to make exceptions for the speech of public figures, allowing them to use troubling language that would otherwise violate their policies on hate speech and harassment. Those key decisions — made in the name of newsworthiness — enabled Trump and his allies to push the boundaries of political discourse online, helping him to build a powerful online movement and amass more than 88 million Twitter followers and more than 35 million on Facebook. Some of those supporters have ties to extreme far right groups and conspiracy theories, such as QAnon, that came out during Wednesday’s riot.
The companies have since cracked down on QAnon and groups such as the Proud Boys, pushing many of the groups’ leaders to other platforms such as Parler.
Trump has weaponized his social media audience repeatedly in the months leading up to and since he lost to Biden in the presidential election, peddling falsehoods that promote the idea that there has been rampant voter fraud. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at times have taken action against Trump, but their attempts to label the president’s tweets as erroneous have largely not stopped their viral spread — or toned down the sort of political tensions that spilled out into public view this week.
On Wednesday, Twitter punished Trump over a series of tweets that sought to cast doubt over the 2020 presidential race. One included a video in which Trump spread disinformation about the election’s outcome, even as he told rioters to leave the House and Senate at a time when lawmakers had started the process of certifying Joseph Biden as the next president. Another tweet attributed the violent mob’s actions to the widely disproved claim that votes had been “stripped away from great patriots.”
Twitter required Trump to delete the tweets to obtain access to his account, but it made clear it plans to escalate its enforcement efforts and suspend the president permanently if he continues to break its rules.
Facebook and its photo-sharing service, Instagram, then suspended Trump from posting over 24 hours starting Wednesday evening, and the tech giant joined Twitter and YouTube in taking down the president’s earlier video. Facebook also said it would remove harmful content posted by other users promoting similar riots at the U.S. Capitol before a day later extending its suspension indefinitely.
Throughout Wednesday, Facebook executives struggled with the decision, particularly because Trump told his supporters to stand down in the video — even has he used inflammatory language, according to a person familiar with the discussions who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the conversations.
The threat for further violence — and Trump’s history in using social media to spread misinformation — prompted a wide array of critics including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League to call on Silicon Valley to suspend the president outright in the final days of his first and only term. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters took to alternative social-media platforms, including Parler, to tout their support for the riots and call for further bloodshed.
Source: The Washington Post