Mob storms Capitol as Facebook, Twitter roles come under fire

The social media companies face pressure to suspend Trump's accounts after the president used social media to push false claims of election fraud.

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Pro-Trump protesters outside the US Capitol

A mob gathers outside the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6.

Samuel Corum/Getty Image

Update, Feb. 9: Trump's second impeachment trial is happening in the Senate now. Here's how to watch the hearing live

A mob stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday as weeks of President Donald Trump's unfounded claims on social media that the 2020 election was stolen boiled over into a display of insurrection. The chaos came as Congress was assembled in the building to affirm the election's results.

Members of Congress evacuated their chambers but returned several hours later, and early Thursday they affirmed former Vice President Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election over Trump after the House and Senate rejected GOP efforts to throw out Arizona's and Pennsylvania's electoral votes for Biden.

Trump has been using Twitter and Facebook to push baseless claims about election fraud to his millions of followers. The companies have labeled a number of Trump's tweets and posts, but critics say those efforts do little to stop the spread of misinformation that could incite violence. On Wednesday, however, both companies took harsher action. 

In a rare move, Twitter locked Trump's account and said it required removal of three tweets that violated its rules regarding elections and other civic processes. "If the Tweets are not removed, the account will remain locked," Twitter said in a tweet. Twitter also added that Trump's account will be permanently suspended if he violates the company's rules again.

Read more: Will Trump be impeached a second time? What to know and where the situations stands

Facebook also removed a video the president had posted for "expressing support for the people causing the violence," according to a note from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that was tweeted out by a New York Times reporter. Facebook also blocked the president from posting to his page for 24 hours, according to the Times. Facebook-owned Instagram also locked the president's account for the same period of time.

On Thursday, Trump released a statement through the Twitter account of his deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino saying that although he disagreed with the outcome of the election, "there will be an orderly transition on January 20th."

Social networks have typically been reluctant to remove Trump's posts, though politicians aren't exempted from their rules against inciting violence. In the past, for instance, Twitter has added a notice to Trump's tweets but allowed users to view his remarks because of public interest.

On Wednesday, ahead of Congress gathering to affirm the election results, Trump had spoken to a rally of supporters nearby, and he stirred them up, telling them "We will never give up, we will never concede." The president also used Twitter to attack Vice President Mike Pence, who had earlier issued a statement saying he couldn't stop the congressional count of electoral votes, which is mandated by the Constitution.

"Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution," Trump tweeted in a statement that falsely claimed fraudulent votes were certified by the states. "USA demands the truth!" he continued. Twitter initially labeled the tweet as disputed, noting that users can't reply to, retweet or like the tweet "due to a risk of violence." The tweet is no longer available, along with two other tweets Trump posted on Wednesday.

Facebook, which exempts politicians from fact-checking, also added labels to several of Trump's posts directing users to its election information center before removing them. In a blog post, Facebook said it would also remove content that praised the storming of the US Capitol and calls to bring weapons to protests or for protests that violate D.C.'s 6 p.m. ET.

By the time the social networks acted, however, Trump's posts had already garnered a lot of views. A Trump video that repeated false claims about election fraud but urged rioters to "go home now" racked up more than 13 million views on Twitter before its was made unavailable. Facebook and Google-owned YouTube pulled down the video.

Facebook's vice president of integrity, Guy Rosen, said in a tweet that the company removed Trump's video because "we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence."

YouTube cited a policy of removing any new videos alleging fraud in the 2020 presidential election, as Trump's video did. YouTube put the rule in place a month ago and essentially categorized Biden's victory as historical fact. YouTube said it would allow copies of the video to remain up if they're presented in the context of "sufficient educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic value."

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

Calls for Facebook and Twitter to take action

On Wednesday, the social networks faced more calls to suspend Trump's accounts and take stronger action against posts that incite violence. University of Virginia law professor Danielle Citron, journalist Kara SwisherObama Foundation CTO Leslie Miley, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and others posted tweets urging Twitter to boot Trump from the social media site. 

"Time is now to suspend Trump's account," Citron tweeted. "He has deliberately incited violence, causing mayhem with his lies and threats."

Twitter said in a statement it will take action against tweets that violate its rules. "Let us be clear: Threats of and calls to violence have no place on Twitter, and we will enforce our policies accordingly," the company said. (Its tweets referencing the events in Washington, D.C. can be found here.)

Facebook, which likewise has rules against inciting violence, also faced criticism for allowing Trump and his supporters to push false claims of voter fraud on its site. Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower in Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, tweeted the violence that broke out at the US Capitol was an "inevitable manifestation of the conspiracy, vitriol and hate fed to people daily on Facebook."

Facebook said it's reviewing and removing any content that violates its rules against inciting violence.

Biden addressed the nation just after 4 p.m. ET, calling the attack an "assault" on democracy that "borders on sedition." He also called for Trump to appear on national TV to denounce the mob's actions. "President Trump, step up," he said.

A woman who was being treated for gunshot wounds on the Capitol grounds was later reported to have died

CNN showed scenes rioters bashing in windows and scampering through them. In photos, the pro-Trump mob milled in the Capitol Building, mugging with statues and entering legislators' offices. 

The fallout from the mayhem continued on Thursday when Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, became the first member of Trump's Cabinet to resign, saying the violence in the nation's capitol "troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside."

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate had gathered Wednesday to count the electoral votes transmitted by the states to Washington. Trump and some lawmakers sought to use the process, which is usually ceremonial, to challenge the results of the election. The president had pressured Pence, who presides over the process, to support his unfounded claims the vote was stolen.

Hours before the vote count began, Trump tweeted that states wanted to correct their votes and repeated bogus claims of "irregularities and fraud." He called on Pence to send the votes back to the states. "Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!" he wrote in a tweet that was labeled as disputed.

Several reporters were tweeting from the scene, including Huffington Post's Matt Fuller, Politico's Olivia Beavers and Huffington Post's Igor Bobic.

CNET's Joan E. Solsman and Corinne Reichert contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated which states' electoral results faced objection from Republicans. Objections were heard over Arizona's and Pennsylvania's electoral results.