As Congress and President Donald Trump’s Cabinet face mounting pressure to immediately remove him from office for inciting a violent mob at the U.S. Capitol, Twitter announced Friday that it is permanently suspending the president’s personal account, @realDonaldTrump, for violating the platform’s rules.
“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,” the social media company explained in a blog post.
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said in a statement that “it was past time for Twitter to permanently suspend President Trump’s account. After more than four years of the president spreading disinformation, amplifying hateful rhetoric, and inciting violence to the point of which an insurrection occurred in the U.S. Capitol, the damage has been done.”
BREAKING NEWS: #Twitter has permanently suspended Trump's account. He has repeatedly violated the platform's Civic Integrity Policy by spreading #disinformation about the #2020Election to millions of his followers and inciting violence. #Thread ⬇️ https://t.co/0ZEvKbikDM
— Common Cause (@CommonCause) January 8, 2021
Twitter, which had temporarily suspended his account after the Capitol attack, added:
In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action. Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open.
However, 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. We will continue to be transparent around our policies and their enforcement.
The post also featured what the tech giant called a “comprehensive analysis of our policy enforcement approach in this case.” Although Twitter started labeling some of Trump’s lies in late May, the suspension marked a major reversal. For years, the company resisted calls to suspend the account, which ramped up in the wake of the November election, as Trump used the platform to lie about voter fraud and falsely claim that he beat President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to be sworn in on January 20.
Following the initial suspension Friday, Twitter also suspended the @TeamTrump account for posting a series of tweets attributed to the president, which included a suggestion of “building out our own platform in the near future.” Shortly before that, according to Mashable, a Twitter spokesperson said that “using another account to try to evade a suspension is against our rules.”
According to the Washington Post, the first permanent suspension came after roughly 350 Twitter employees sent CEO Jack Dorsey and his top executives a letter which said in part, “Despite our efforts to serve the public conversation, as Trump’s megaphone, we helped fuel the deadly events of January 6th.”
“We request an investigation into how our public policy decisions led to the amplification of serious anti-democratic threats. We must learn from our mistakes in order to avoid causing future harm,” the employees wrote to Twitter leaders. “We play an unprecedented role in civil society and the world’s eyes are upon us. Our decisions this week will cement our place in history, for better or worse.”
Twitter also permanently suspended the accounts of Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his lawyer Sidney Powell on Friday. Axios reported that “the action comes as part of the platform’s crackdown on QAnon-related content,” noting that “both Flynn and Powell have promoted the far-right conspiracy theory.”
According to a Twitter Spokesperson: “The accounts have been suspended in line with our policy on Coordinated Harmful Activity. We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm, and given the renewed… (1/2) https://t.co/fZsPORCBrB
— Tyler Adkisson (@tyadkisson) January 8, 2021
The suspensions were welcomed by a range of advocacy groups and Twitter users including Muslim Advocates, a member of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Committee that, as part of the Change the Terms coalition, has been calling on various social media platforms to permanently ban Trump’s accounts after the violence at the U.S. Capitol.
“By permanently banning Trump’s account, Twitter is showing real leadership and is taking a significant step towards shutting off a major source of online hate and disinformation—as well as helping to prevent further white nationalist violence,” said Muslim Advocates media relations officer Eric Naing. “The company’s move to remove QAnon accounts is also welcome and needed to protect the public. As Twitter notes, letting Trump continue to post tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos for his white nationalist supporters risks ‘further incitement of violence.’ Now it is up to Facebook and Google/YouTube to follow Twitter’s lead.”
Facebook, which also owns Instagram, at least temporarily suspended Trump’s accounts after his supporters stormed the Capitol. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Thursday that “we believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
Free Press co-CEO and Change the Terms co-founder Jessica J. González also urged other companies to permanently ban Trump. She called Twitter’s decision “a day late and a dollar short” but also “a victory for racial justice advocates who have long condemned his continued abuse of the platform.”
“From the launch of his presidential campaign when he defamed Mexicans as rapists, criminals, and drug dealers, to the desperate last gasps of his presidency as he has egged on white supremacists to commit violence and insurrection,” she said, “Trump had used his Twitter account to incite violence, lie about the election outcome, encourage racists, and spread conspiracy theories.”
While Twitter’s decision to ban Trump provoked broader critiques of the power wielded by social media companies and concerns that — as Chicago Sun-Times reporter Nader Issa put it — “at this point, so late in the game, the only effect might be to add fuel to the fire,” the move was also widely celebrated on the platform:
TRUMP PERMANENTLY SUSPENDED.
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) January 8, 2021
— usa is a failed state (@BreeNewsome) January 8, 2021
This took way longer than it should have — but we are extremely glad to see social media companies finally crackdown on the vicious, dangerous spread of misinformation and violence. https://t.co/g1TqHtsA6v
— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@foe_us) January 8, 2021
To our 7 million @ColorOfChange members and everyone else who has been pushing @Twitter for YEARS to enforce their own policies and suspend Trump's account: we did that.@Facebook, your turn. We're waiting. https://t.co/wLk7lCM2sa
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) January 8, 2021
Bridget Todd, communications director at UltraViolet, a leading national women’s organization, released a concise statement: “In the words of Beyoncé: BOY BYE. This was long overdue.”
Angelo Carusone, president of the watchdog group Media Matters for America, agreed that suspension was “long past due and appropriate” but added that “Twitter (and other platforms) doing this now is a lot like senior administration officials resigning with only days left—too little too late.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law counsel David Brody said that “Twitter’s action tonight could have come sooner but is welcome nonetheless. We’ve seen the president use his account to fan the flames of hate resulting in death, mayhem and a breakdown of norms that has culminated in a full-on attack in the halls of our democracy. It is clear that without strong safeguards, social media is a conduit for misinformation and violence.”
Before Twitter’s announcement on Friday, Timothy Karr, the senior director of strategy for Free Press Action Fund, wrote for Common Dreams that his organization, as a founding member of the Change the Terms and Stop Hate for Profit coalitions, “has called on these platforms to take more concrete actions.”
As Karr detailed:
Those steps include hiring a C-Suite-level executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate company products with regard to bias and hate; and submitting to regular and transparent third-party audits of their responses to identity-based hate and misinformation. We’ve met repeatedly and face to face with these platforms’ executives to make our case and recommend essential changes to their terms of service.
Their responses have been inadequate—half-measures meant to give them a PR victory while accomplishing very little to stem the white supremacy coursing across their networks.
“Wednesday’s violence, as much as anything, is proof of this failure,” he added. “These tech giants must immediately ban Trump and his racist enablers from all of their services.”