Twitter finally blocked President Donald Trump’s social media account on Friday afternoon and cited the risk of further incitement to violence.
The decision came in the wake of Trump’s encouragement to a rally in Washington, DC that resulted in a mob storming the Capitol building and killing at least five people. For years, the president has been using his Twitter account to reach his nearly 90 million former followers on the platform in order to bypass traditional media. Many critics have long argued that Twitter should take a firmer stance on Trump as it dangerously uses the platform to spread lies and violent rhetoric. While some see the move as too little and too late, and Trump’s supporters totally question it, it nonetheless represents a historic effort for Twitter’s ability to influence politics at a time when the strength of democracy in the US is serious is put to the test.
“In connection with terrible events this week we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter rules would possibly lead to exactly this procedure,” said a blog post by the company on Friday the decision. Despite the fact that Twitter has generally allowed world leaders like Trump to post more controversial content than the average user as their tweets are classified as timely, the company said these accounts are still “not entirely above our rules and Cannot use Twitter to incite violence ”. amongst other things.”
Prior to the permanent ban, Twitter temporarily suspended Trump’s tweets on Wednesday for violating his guidelines on civic integrity and violence, warning that if he continued to violate his guidelines, it could put him permanently on hold. Now users will no longer be able to see Trump’s tweets and the president will not be able to post on his account.
Hundreds of Twitter employees called on CEO Jack Dorsey to put Trump on hold, according to a report in the Washington Post.
The day before Twitter’s final suspension, Facebook blocked Trump’s account on its platform, which has millions of followers, from publication, stressing that the ban would last at least two weeks until President-elect Joe Biden was inaugurated.
Recent events that led to the decision
Twitter’s official explanation as to why it permanently blocked Trump’s account was that its last two tweets violated the company’s policy of glorifying violence and were part of a broader pattern promoting violence during the presidential transition. Twitter explicitly cited concern that Trump’s supporters seemed to be interpreting his announcement not to attend Biden’s inauguration as a signal that it would be a “safe” target for violence.
The first tweet that pushed Trump beyond the tipping point on Twitter said he would not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration. The second stated that the “75,000,000 great American patriots” who voted for Trump “would not be disregarded or treated unfairly in any way, form, or form !!!”
Twitter said that these two tweets caused the platform to suspend his account if they were read in the broader context of the recent violence in DC and how Trump’s tweets can be mobilized by his followers to incite further violence.
Over the past week, a growing chorus of political and tech executives has put more pressure than ever on social media companies to permanently ban Trump. Their concerns match fears that Trump is encouraging his supporters to carry out a coup by emphatically rejecting the confirmed results of the presidential election declaring Biden the next president.
“Now is the time for Silicon Valley companies to stop facilitating this monstrous behavior – and go even further than before by permanently banning this man from their platforms,” former First Lady Michelle Obama said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.
In the tech industry, early Twitter investor Chris Sacca and former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos also urged Twitter to block the president’s access to social media.
Hundreds of Twitter employees, who have rarely publicly protested the company’s decisions, said they believed the company had a moral obligation to close Trump’s account.
“We play an unprecedented role in civil society and the eyes of the world are on us,” the staff wrote in a letter to the executives of Jack Dorsey and Twitter. “Our decisions this week will cement our place in history, for better or for worse.”
People in Trump’s inner circle like Donald Trump Jr. were quick to mock Twitter’s decision, arguing that the company was holding his father on a double standard by not taking down the accounts of the Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei and “numerous other dictatorial regimes”.
A history of controversial tweets
Trump started his political career on Twitter, spreading racist conspiracy theories about former President Obama. And as he continued to gain political power, he was a prolific user of the platform, regularly spreading false statements, conspiracy theories, and sometimes what many view as dangerous rhetoric relating to inciting violence.
Over the years, the former reality TV star has repeatedly used the platform to retweet conspiracy theorists such as QAnon supporters, spread medical misinformation about Covid-19, potentially shooting into the crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters and at several Places potentially provoking a nuclear war over the platform.
And for the past four years, Trump’s brand-new social media posts have largely not been checked by Twitter and other big tech companies. This is because Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other companies have repeatedly stated that they do not want to interfere in politics, but rather act as neutral platforms promoting freedom of speech.
These limits have been tested by Trump’s repeated attempts to compromise the integrity of the US election process through social media. In the months leading up to and after the 2020 presidential election, Trump spread endless conspiracy theories that the elections were allegedly “stolen” from him, despite having no substantive evidence to support such allegations. His repeated claim that the election was rigged has also inspired some of his ardent supporters to question the legitimacy of the US electoral college, fueling the “Stop the Steal” protests that led to the violence on Wednesday.
For some critics of Trump’s Twitter behavior, the company’s measures to limit the president’s tweets are several years overdue. Trump has already built an infrastructure of highly networked social media followers who continue to organize themselves in private groups, alternative social media platforms such as Gab and Parler, and via the Twitter accounts of other prominent Trump supporters.
If Trump tries to open another Twitter account under Twitter’s ban evasion policy, he may be kicked off the platform again.
However, its administration still has access to two official U.S. government accounts: @POTUS and @WhiteHouse. According to Twitter, these accounts will be handed over to the Biden administration shortly. The company has announced that it will not lock these accounts unless it deems it absolutely necessary to do so in order to reduce the damage in the real world.
On Friday evening, Trump posted several tweets to @POTUS criticizing Twitter for banning his account and claiming without evidence that “Twitter staff coordinated with the Democrats and the radical left to get my account from their platform to remove”. Twitter quickly deleted the tweets.
It is unclear where Trump will go from here. The natural social media platform Trump can migrate to, Parler, has fewer rules for moderating content, but those guidelines are suddenly proving to be problematic. Around the same time Twitter permanently suspended Trump, Google banned Parler from its app store, and Apple warned that if the platform didn’t start moderating content more aggressively, it might as well.
Twitter’s action to ban Trump was an unprecedented move by a major tech company to curtail a major political figure’s platform in the interests of maintaining democratic stability. And there’s a good chance we’ll see more of this from other companies in the future.
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