Twitter, Facebook freeze Trump accounts as tech giants respond to storming of US Capitol

Supporters of US President Donald Trump cover their faces to protect themselves from teargas during a clash with police officers in front of the US Capitol building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump cover their faces to protect themselves from teargas during a clash with police officers in front of the US Capitol building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021.
Image: Reuters / Leah Millis

Twitter Inc, Facebook Inc and Snap Inc temporarily locked the accounts of US President Donald Trump as tech giants scrambled to crack down on his baseless claims about the US presidential election amid riots in the capital.

Twitter hid and mandated the removal of three of Trump's tweets “as a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, DC”, after pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to force Congress to block the appointment of President-elect Joe Biden.

Four people died on Capitol grounds in the chaos, including a woman who was shot dead inside the building.

The president and his allies for months have amplified unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, driving the organising for the day's demonstration.

Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday, later taken down by Twitter, that the storming of the building was a natural response. He also blamed Vice-President Mike Pence for lacking “courage” to pursue the claims of election fraud.

Twitter locked Trump's account until 12 hours after he deletes those tweets and a video in which he alleged the presidential election was fraudulent and urged protesters to go home. If the tweets are not deleted, the account will remain locked.

Facebook and YouTube, owned by Alphabet's Google, likewise removed the video.

Facebook later said it would block Trump's page from posting for 24 hours, with vice-president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeting the video “contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence”.

The company said in a blog post that it would ban calls to bring weapons to locations across the country and would remove any support for the events at the Capitol.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Risk of violence

Violent rhetoric and advice on weaponry ramped up significantly in the past three weeks on social media platforms as groups planned for the rallies, including white nationalists and enthusiasts of the wide-ranging QAnon conspiracy theory, according to researchers and public postings.

Twitter and Facebook acted against major QAnon accounts last year, but by the time they did, influencers had been able to drive their followers to new platforms, such as Parler, and closed channels, like those on Telegram, where their conduct was harder to track.

Movement leaders frequently pointed to Trump's words in their calls to action, including the president's exhortation that the events in Washington on January 6 would be “wild”.

Comments during the occupation of the Capitol on TheDonald.win, a website of Trump enthusiasts, included “WE WANT BLOOD” and “murder Pelosi,” according to research firm Advance Democracy Inc.

As the siege of the Capitol escalated on Wednesday, civil rights groups including The Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change called for social media companies to suspend Trump's accounts permanently.

Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos likewise tweeted: “Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off.”

Some Facebook staffers joined calls for Trump's accounts to be shut down and demanded transparency from executives about how they were handling the situation, according to internal posts seen by Reuters.

“Can we get some courage and actual action from leadership in response to this behaviour? Your silence is disappointing at the least and criminal at worst,” one employee wrote.

Internal communications managers quickly closed comments on the threads.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the internal posts.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg later wrote in an internal post confirmed by the company that he was “personally saddened by this mob violence”.

He said Facebook was treating the situation as an emergency and “implementing additional measures to keep people safe”, without elaborating.

Reuters

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