By Jon Swartz and Levi Sumagaysay
With mere days before his presidency is set to end, Twitter Inc. permanently suspended the account of Donald Trump on Friday.
“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,” Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -3.30% announced in a blog post in which the company said plans of another attack on the U.S. Capitol were already circulating both on and off the platform.
A spokesperson for the company told MarketWatch that Trump and others were banned in line with Twitter’s policy against harmful coordinated activity. The accounts of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell were also permanently banned.
The breaking point came after Wednesday’s events, when Trump spoke at a rally of supporters, who later stormed the Capitol as Congress was voting to confirm the results of the election that cost Trump the presidency. Trump subsequently posted support for the riotous mob on Twitter and Facebook Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +0.14% ; Facebook banned Trump on Thursday, while Twitter allowed Trump to return after a temporary ban.
Friday, hundreds of Twitter employees wrote to Chief Executive Jack Dorsey urging him to permanently ban Trump, the Washington Post reported. They also asked for “an investigation into how our public policy decisions led to the amplification of serious anti-democratic threats.”
The president used Twitter as a bully pulpit on his way to the presidency and as commander in chief, developing an audience on the site of 88.7 million. He provoked people and companies and rallied support for his causes, using the platform to bypass the news media and speak directly to constituents. Most dangerously, he pushed the false notion for months that he won the presidential election, which led to Wednesday’s bloody rally.
“Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021,” Twitter cited in its blog post.
MediaJustice, an Oakland, Calif.-based social-justice advocacy group, has urged Twitter to ban Trump for years and met with the company earlier this week.
“In many ways, this move is a day late and a dollar short,” said Steven Renderos, executive director of the group, on Friday. “But it’s about protecting democracy and the U.S. from further harm.”
Eric Goldman, law professor and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, called the move inevitable. “For so long [Twitter was] justifying his behavior because he was a sitting president. The events of this week showed that even a sitting president needs to be held accountable for his words.”
Twitter had long supported keeping Trump and other world leaders on the platform, who use it to make some of their most important pronouncements. But his misbehavior since the election, culminating in Wednesday’s riot, finally led to a ban.
Trump attempted late Friday to tweet under the POTUS account, but Twitter removed it. In that post, Trump accused Twitter of coordinating with the Democrats and the radical left, and warns of “our own platform.”)
“As we’ve said, using another account to try to evade a suspension is against our rules,” a Twitter spokeswoman said. “We have taken steps to enforce this with regard to recent Tweets from the @POTUS account. For government accounts, such as @POTUS and @WhiteHouse, we will not suspend those accounts permanently but will take action to limit their use.”
“We made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things,” the company said in its earlier blog post.
Donald Trump Jr., who also spoke during the raucous rally Wednesday, vehemently objected to his father’s online ouster. He tweeted: “So the ayatollah, and numerous other dictatorial regimes can have Twitter accounts with no issue despite threatening genocide to entire countries and killing homosexuals etc… but The President of the United States should be permanently suspended. Mao would be proud.”
Trump had either directly or indirectly encouraged violence on Twitter for years, including against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the news media and others. In 2017, Twitter took down a couple of Trump tweets for the first time, when he retweeted right-wing British leaders who tweeted doctored videos of purported violence by Muslims. Twitter also got some heat for refusing to take down Trump’s tweets about having “a bigger nuclear button” than North Korea, which led to concerns about a war.
Because Trump’s tweets will be needed for historical and other reasons, the company said it will work with the government on its archiving needs.
Shares of Twitter, which tolerated the president’s behavior despite persistent pleas it boot an account that generated tremendous traffic and engagement, fell 3.7% in after-hours trading Friday.
Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, called on Facebook and Google-owned YouTube to also institute permanent bans on Trump. Facebook’s announcement Thursday said its suspension of the president would last until at least through the end of his presidency, although CEO Mark Zuckerberg also used the word “indefinitely.”
“It is long past time for these companies to take the steps necessary to address pervasive hate and disinformation on their platforms,” Muslim Advocates said in a statement.
“These actions are long past due and appropriate. But, Twitter (and other platforms) doing this now is a lot like senior administration officials resigning with only days left — too little too late,” Angelo Carusone, president of nonprofit Media Matters for America, said in a statement.
Absent the Twitter and Facebook social-media megaphones that reached billions and commandeered a 24-7 news cycle of his own doing, Trump may increasingly turn to right-wing social-media sites like Parler. But late Friday, Alphabet Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.47% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -0.38% Google pulled Parler from its Play Store for fostering violence, and Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -1.28% threatened to do the same on its App Store.
Goldman warned that Twitter is bound to receive blowback from regulators and legislators.
“This drama doesn’t end here, it starts here in some way,” he said. “If Twitter has the power to decide which politicians can engage their constituents, politicians will care greatly.”
Renderos acknowledged that Twitter’s long-awaited action “doesn’t undo the radicalization of people who live with an alternate set of facts. But it starts to move us toward a world where we can grapple with the reality that we’re in.”