Twitter on Friday banned President Trump from its site, a punishment for his role in inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol this week, robbing him of the megaphone he used to communicate directly with more than 88 million supporters and critics.
The move amounted to a historic rebuke for a president who had used the social-networking site to fuel his rise to political prominence. Twitter has been Trump’s primary communication tool to push policies, drive news cycles, fire officials, spread falsehoods, savage opponents and praise allies.
A defiant Trump lashed out in response late Friday, accusing Twitter in a statement of having “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left” to remove his account. He threatened regulation, promising a “big announcement” to come, and said he is looking “at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future!” The official account for the presidency, @POTUS, also tweeted that message, although the posts were quickly taken down by Twitter.
Twitter had resisted taking action against Trump for years, even as critics called on the company to suspend him, arguing that a world leader should be able to speak to his or her citizens unfettered. But Trump’s escalating tweets casting doubt on the 2020 election — and the riot at the U.S. Capitol his comments helped inspire — led the company to reverse course.
Twitter specifically raised the possibility that Trump’s recent tweets could mobilize his supporters to commit acts of violence around President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, an analysis that experts saw as a major expansion in the company’s approach to moderating harmful content online. Its action meant Trump’s tweets disappeared from the site, removing the catalogue of his thoughts except for those preserved by researchers and other documentarians.
The move was especially remarkable for a company that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” Many observers noted that this most aggressive enforcement action in Twitter’s history came in the week that political power shifted decisively in Washington, toward Democrats who long have demanded greater policing of hate speech and violent talk on social media — and away from a president and party who long had made effective use of the more freewheeling policies of the past.
“It took blood and glass in the halls of Congress — and a change in the political winds — for the most powerful tech companies in the world to recognize, at the last possible moment, the profound threat of Donald Trump,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a longtime critic of tech company policies.
Twitter cited two Trump tweets. One stated that the 75 million who voted for him were “American Patriots” who will “not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” He then announced he would not go to Biden’s swearing-in ceremony later this month.
In a blog post, the company said the two messages violated its policy against glorification of violence since they “could inspire others to replicate violent acts” that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. According to Twitter, his second tweet could be read by followers as an encouragement to commit violence during the inauguration, which “would be a ‘safe,’ target as he will not be attending.”
In doing so, Twitter joined Facebook in punishing the president in the waning hours of his first term. Facebook said Thursday its suspension is indefinite, lasting at least the next two weeks, citing a similar belief that the risks are “simply too great” at a moment of transition for the country. Both tech giants previously joined Google-owned YouTube in removing or limiting access to Trump’s posts, including a video he shared earlier this week that once again advanced widely disproved falsehoods about the validity of the 2020 vote.
“We will not be SILENCED!” @POTUS tweeted before it was taken down. The president also charged that in a statement.
Twitter’s punishment is the harshest judgment the site has at its disposal. It appeared to be the first time the company had taken such an action since instituting a broad policy around world leaders last year, illustrating the slow shift in Silicon Valley as the country’s most popular, prominent platforms grew more comfortable in taking on Trump.
Facebook, for example, had its first of many furious internal debates over how to handle Trump in December 2015, when as a presidential candidate he posted a video in which he said he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Many employees called it obvious hate speech, but top executives chose to defer, by creating an exemption for content they deemed “newsworthy.”