Twitter Permanently Suspends Trump, Citing 'Risk Of Further Incitement Of Violence' | WAMC

Twitter Permanently Suspends Trump, Citing 'Risk Of Further Incitement Of Violence'

Jan 8, 2021
Originally published on January 10, 2021 6:09 pm

Updated 10:05 p.m. ET Friday

Twitter has permanently suspended President Trump's account over a pattern of behavior that violated company rules.

The action was the most sweeping punishment any major social media company has ever taken against Trump, who has used his Twitter account to announce White House policy, attack rivals and widely disseminate misinformation.

For years, Twitter has been under pressure from critics to limit the reach of Trump's falsehood-laced tweets. Calls for Trump to be banned from Twitter have also been long mounting.

Yet officials at Twitter stood by his account, since the platform generally gives wide berth to accounts from world leaders whose posts have public value.

That all changed following the violent riots that overtook the Capitol earlier this week after a deluge of posts attempting to sabotage the result of the presidential election.

Now, @realDonaldTrump is gone for good and attempts to evade the ban will result in enforcement, Twitter officials said.

"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 company said in a statement.

Trump says Twitter silenced him and his supporters

It did not take long for Trump to try to get around the ban. Trump tweeted four messages from the @POTUS account. All were swiftly taken down.

In the posts, which Trump also shared in a written statement, he accused Twitter of banning free speech.

He said Twitter silenced him and "the 75,000,000 great patriots who voted for me."

He also echoed complaints about a legal shield, known as Section 230, that has long protected tech companies from lawsuits over what is posted on its sites.

"Twitter may be a private company, but without the government's gift of Section 230 they would not exist for long," the president wrote.

Far smaller social media sites, like Gab and Parler, market themselves as having more of an anything-goes culture. The platforms have become especially popular among Trump supporters and other conservatives.

In his statement, Trump said his social media presence will be moving to a yet undisclosed platform.

"We have been negotiating with various other sites, and will have a big announcement soon, while we also look at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future. We will not be SILENCED!" Trump said.

Late Friday, Twitter also suspended @TeamTrump, an account associated with the Trump campaign, after it shared a portion of Trump's statement condemning the company's action.

Trump called Twitter his 'rocket ship'

Trump's Twitter account, which had more than 88 million followers, was removed following the company's warning the president it would happen if he did not stop abusing the platform, including his attempts to sabotage the results of the November election by peddling false claims.

The move is a stunning fall from grace for Trump, who assembled a massive national following, in large part through the prolific use of his Twitter feed. The platform was his preferred tool for announcing major changes in federal policy — and even changes in personnel. He occasionally fired Cabinet secretaries and aides via tweet.

He took pride in his ability to get around the mainstream media and drive cable news with tweets he compared to "a rocket ship."

"I call Twitter a typewriter," Trump told a White House summit with right-wing social media provocateurs in 2019.

"I go, 'Watch this.' Boom. I press it, and within two seconds, 'We have breaking news,' " he said.

President Trump has accused Twitter of banning free speech. The social media company permanently suspended his verified personal account Friday, and four tweets from the president's official account were removed later the same evening.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

But Trump used his Twitter account to do more: routinely disparage, attack and threaten his rivals. Researchers say Trump's tweets supercharged falsehoods about racial justice protesters, the coronavirus and the election, among many other topics.

Inspired and encouraged by the president's rhetoric — on and off social media — thousands of rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. That marked a turning point for Twitter, but it initially stopped short of permanently banning the president and instead limited his access for several hours.

Trump's allies took to Twitter to express their fury at the company's decision. Some complained that the company allowed leaders of repressive countries to tweet.

Jason Miller, who was a top adviser to Trump during his campaign, called the ban "disgusting" and said "Big Tech" wanted to "cancel" the 75 million people who voted for Trump.

"If you don't think they're coming for you next, you're wrong," Miller said on Twitter.

Growing Trump fallout on social media

Twitter's decision on Friday comes after Facebook and Instagram banned Trump for at least two weeks. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said permitting the president to continue to use the platform during the presidential transition posed a risk that was "simply too great."

Researchers who study the spread of conspiracies online have said the mayhem that unfolded on the Capitol may have been avoided had the major social media platforms done more to suppress baseless claims about election fraud.

For months, the platforms have been warned about the potential real-world dangers, such as political violence, that could occur when falsehoods about an election are amplified on social media, said Ryan Calo, a cyber law professor at the University of Washington.

"I am disappointed," Calo said during a briefing with the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of misinformation experts. "At how much of a pass the platforms are getting based on saying that they didn't realize that this was a possibility. I think they specifically knew. And I am amazed that it's taken a literal insurrection to even pause this demagoguery on their platforms."

Trump still has access to official White House accounts while in office, such as @POTUS and @WhiteHouse — but his access to those accounts end on Jan. 20, the first day of Joe Biden's presidency.

A Twitter official said @POTUS and @WhiteHouse will not be suspended, but the company "will take action to limit their use" ahead of the accounts transitioning to the Biden administration. The company's policy is to suspend any accounts that are used to get around a ban such as the one imposed on the president Friday.

The final tweet from @realDonaldTrump, sent Friday, read, "To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th."

Some Trump supporters understood that message "as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate," Twitter said in its statement. It could also be interpreted as a disavowal of pledges by Trump's staff to have an orderly transition on Inauguration Day, the company added.

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Twitter has permanently suspended the account of President Trump. Navigate to the handle @realDonaldTrump, and now you get this message, quote, "account suspended. Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter rules." Now, many have blamed Trump's tweets and rhetoric for encouraging Wednesday's attack on the U.S. Capitol. And now, two days after that attack, the president of the United States is without his preferred method of public communication.

NPR tech correspondent Bobby Allyn joins us now to walk us through this latest development. Hi, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what exactly did Twitter cite as its rationale for making this move?

ALLYN: Twitter said it made the decision in order to prevent the president from inciting further violence around the country. But the company did not make this decision in a vacuum, right? I mean, researchers, civil rights groups, even hundreds of Twitter employees have in recent days called on the company to kick Trump off the platform. So Twitter banning Trump for life only really came after a chorus of people said Trump is not just spreading false claims; he's actually stoking attacks on American democracy itself.

CHANG: I mean, yeah, as we said, a lot of people have viewed Trump's tweets and his rhetoric as egging on the mob that attacked the Capitol. But, Bobby, I mean, so many objections have been raised before - over the past four years - to Trump's incendiary tweets. So why do you think Twitter is only now taking this drastic move literally just days away from the end of his presidency?

ALLYN: Yeah, that's a good question, and we don't know. But I don't think it's lost on Twitter that Trump, like you said, has 12 days left in office, and Democrats are about to take power in Washington. So I can't say this is what caused the decision, but it's certainly notable that Twitter only banned Trump after it was clear that he had lost power. But yes, he has created a long record on Twitter of misleading, disparaging and just straight-up racist tweets. I mean, remember when Trump tweeted, when the looting starts, the shooting starts in reference to the George Floyd protesters?

CHANG: Yes.

ALLYN: That got a lot of attention. Yeah. I mean, many said back then that Twitter should ban Trump over that tweet, but they didn't.

CHANG: They didn't. OK, so now President Trump is without Facebook. He's without Instagram. He's without Twitter. How crippling is this for him when it comes to his ability to communicate with his supporters?

ALLYN: Quite. I mean, this is devastating for him. I mean, many experts say Trump as a political figure could never have existed without Twitter. I mean, the platform has helped him amass just this unbelievable following. It's, you know, propelled his political career. And once he got in the White House, his tweets became, you know, the equivalent of a presidential decree. I mean, just by sending one tweet, in a matter of a second, he could change a national news cycle. He could grab the spotlight back. So now that power is gone. And sure, he can go to a smaller, you know, alternative platform, but not having 88 million followers to directly speak to is unquestionably going to be a major hit to his relevancy.

CHANG: Right. OK, so has the White House responded to any of this yet?

ALLYN: Not yet, though we heard from Jason Miller, who was a top adviser to Trump, and he called Trump's ban, quote, "disgusting" and said, quote, "big tech wanted to cancel the 75 million people who voted for Trump." We also heard from President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., weighing in, saying, quote, "we are living in Orwell's "1984," where free speech no longer exists in America."

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you, Bobby.

ALLYN: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.