WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Twitter Inc said on Friday that it has permanently suspended US President Donald Trump’s account due to the risk of further incitement of violence following the storming of the US Capitol on Wednesday.
The suspension of Trump’s account, which had more than 88 million followers, silences his primary megaphone days before the end of his term and follows years of debate about how social media companies should moderate the accounts of powerful global leaders.
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company said in a tweet.
It was the first time Twitter has banned a head of state, the company confirmed.
Social media companies have moved swiftly to crack down on Trump and some of his prominent right-wing allies and supporters in the wake of the turmoil in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, which led to five deaths.
Trump has repeatedly used Twitter and other platforms to claim his defeat in the Nov. 3 election was due to widespread voter fraud and to share other conspiracy theories, and had urged supporters to come to Washington on Wednesday and march on the Capitol to protest the election result.
Facebook Inc said earlier this week it was suspending his account through until at least the end of his presidential term.
The Republican president is due to hand over to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20.
In a blog post on Friday, Twitter said that two of the president’s tweets posted that day were in violation of its policy against the glorification of violence.
Twitter had temporarily blocked Trump’s account on Wednesday following the siege of Capitol Hill, and warned that additional violations by the president’s accounts would result in a permanent suspension.
Trump was required to delete three rule-breaking tweets before his account was unblocked. He returned to Twitter on Thursday with a video acknowledging that Biden would be the next U.S. president.
Twitter said that Trump’s tweet that he would not be attending Biden’s inauguration was being received by a number of his supporters as confirmation that the November election was not legitimate.
It said another tweet praising “American Patriots” and saying his supporters “will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” could be seen as “further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an orderly transition.”
Critics of major social media platforms, including top Democratic politicians, praised Twitter’s move and said it was long overdue, while Trump suppporters expressed outrage.
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in a tweet on Friday decried the ban, saying dictators who had threatened genocide continued to have Twitter accounts. He did not provide names.
The White House had no immediate direct comment. The Trump campaign’s Twitter account criticized the company for “silencing” the president of the United States.
Using the @POTUS account, Trump said he would look at building his own platform.
‘LOOTING AND SHOOTING’
Trump’s prolific use of social media helped propel him to the White House in 2016. He has used his personal @realDonaldTrump account, which has sometimes tweeted more than 100 times a day, to reach supporters, spread misinformation and even fire staff.
In a 2017 interview on Fox Business, Trump said “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” according to a transcript released by the network.
Both Twitter and Facebook have long afforded Trump special privileges as a world leader, saying that tweets that may violate the company’s policies would not be removed because they were in the public interest. They said he would lose access to those privileges upon leaving office, however.
Twitter last year started labeling and putting warnings on Trump’s tweets that broke its rules against glorifying violence, manipulated media or sharing potentially misleading information about voting processes.
In May, Twitter affixed a warning label to a Trump tweet about widespread anti-racism protests over the police killing of George Floyd that included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Facebook, which has come under fire from employees and lawmakers for not doing more about Trump’s inflammatory posts, declined to act on the same message.
Trump still has access to the official @WhiteHouse and @POTUS accounts but will lose this when his presidential term ends. Asked if Trump could create another account, a Twitter spokeswoman said if the company had reason to believe he was using accounts to evade Friday’s suspension, those accounts too could be suspended.
Then, on Friday, Twitter Inc deleted new tweets posted by US President Donald Trump on the official government account @POTUS and suspended the account of his presidential campaign.
Trump tweeted “We will not be SILENCED!” from the @POTUS government account, with 33.4 million followers. Twitter had permanently suspended the president’s go-to megaphone, his @realDonaldTrump personal account, hours earlier.
The company said accounts used by Trump to try to get around the ban could face permanent suspension as well under its “ban evasion” policies.
“Twitter is not about FREE SPEECH,” Trump wrote in the now-deleted tweets, adding that he is considering building his own social media platform in the near future.
Twitter shut down his @TeamTrump campaign account shortly after it sent out a tweet with a “statement from President Trump” accusing Twitter of “banning free speech” and coordinating with “the Democrats and the Radical Left” to silence him.
The account shortly before that had pointed its 2.3 million followers to its account on Parler, which is popular with conservatives for its hands-off approach to content moderation.
Alphabet Inc’s Google suspended Parler on Friday, citing posts inciting violence, while Apple Inc gave the service 24 hours to submit a detailed moderation plan.
Also on Friday, Twitter Inc said it would permanently suspend accounts pushing QAnon content, banning prominent right-wing boosters of its conspiracy theories including Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell following Wednesday’s storming of the US Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Flynn, a former national security adviser to Trump, and Powell, a former Trump campaign lawyer, have both been close allies of the president and promoted efforts to cast doubt about his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.
Twitter also suspended Ron Watkins, the administrator of fringe message board 8kun, which effectively serves as home base for the QAnon conspiracy movement.
“Given the renewed potential for violence surrounding this type of behavior in the coming days, we will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content,” Twitter said in a statement.
QAnon followers espouse an intertwined series of far-fetched beliefs based on anonymous web postings from “Q”, who claims to have insider knowledge of the Trump administration.
At the core of the baseless conspiracy theories embraced by QAnon is the idea that Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of child-sex predators that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and “deep state” allies.
QAnon has been amplified on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the video streaming service of Alphabet Inc’s Google. Its adherents were among those who participated in the Capitol siege that left five people dead.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York, David Shepardson, Katie Paul in Palo Alto, Eric Beech and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler, Sonya Hepinstall, Shounak Dasgupta and Bill Berkrot)