Twitter permanently bans Trump's account

The social network says it took the rare action "due to the risk of further incitement of violence" after a deadly riot on Capitol Hill.

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6 min read

The rare move follows a temporary lock on Trump's account.  

Angela Lang/CNET

Twitter on Friday permanently banned Donald Trump's account as the social network warned that the president's tweets risked inciting further violence after he whipped up a mob that invaded the Capitol earlier this week. The short-message app said it had already found plans for armed actions circulating on its platform ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Twitter took the highly unusual step after concluding that Trump's latest tweets constituted a risk to public safety and could lead to more havoc. The president's account, which had over 88 million followers, had been temporarily locked on Wednesday for a series of tweets that challenged former Vice President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. 

Watch this: Donald Trump permanently suspended from Twitter

The social network determined that the president's latest tweets carried a risk of inciting additional violence.

"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," Twitter said in a tweet that included a link to a blog post explaining the action. "Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021," the post said.

Twitter's move, which followed a similar block issued by Facebook, comes as the country reels in the wake of a chaotic assault Wednesday on the Capitol. The melee, in which five people died, followed a Trump rally nearby and came as Congress was gathered to certify the results of the heated presidential election. The attack halted the count, though it resumed and was completed after law enforcement cleared the Capitol of rioters. 

Twitter had been reluctant to pull down Trump's account, because his role as president makes his words of public interest. However, the company has faced increased pressure to permanently ban the president's account after his baseless claims of voter fraud spilled over into violence on Capitol Hill, and this move marks the harshest rebuke yet. Twitter's own employees criticized the company for not acting, writing a letter to CEO Jack Dorsey and other company executives asking for an investigation into the social network's role in the riot, according to The Washington Post

For years, critics have called for Twitter to ban Trump. The president has violated the social network's rules in the past, but the company has either left up the tweets, labeled them, or screened them behind a public interest notice that allowed users to click a button to go ahead and read the tweets. In 2017, for example, Trump tweeted what appeared to be a threat against North Korea. Though Twitter has rules against violent threats, it said the newsworthiness of the tweet merited allowing it to remain on the social network. Since Jan. 6, Twitter has labeled five of Trump's tweets because they contained baseless claims of voter fraud. 

On Friday, Twitter said two of the president's tweets had violated its rules against glorifying violence, prompting the company to ban him. "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," the company said in a tweet.

In a blog post, Twitter explained that two of Trump's tweets posted on Friday violated its rules against glorification of violence. In one of the tweets, Trump said he wouldn't be attending Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20. In the other tweet, Trump said his supporters, whom he called "American Patriots," will "have a giant long voice into the future" and "will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!"

Twitter said the company considered the tweets in the context of recent events, including the riot, and concluded Trump's messages could foment violence. The two tweets "were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021," Twitter said. 

The company concluded the tweet about Trump skipping the inauguration could embolden people looking to commit violence, because they know he won't be there. Trump's use of the phrase "American Patriots" was interpreted as support for people who stormed the Capitol.

"We made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules and cannot use Twitter to incite violence," the company said in a tweet. "We will continue to be transparent around our policies and their enforcement."

The move coincided with a coming shift in power in Washington, with Democrats, led by Biden, taking control of both houses of Congress, as well as the presidency. Trump, a Republican, has called for the repeal of Section 230, the internet law that has allowed many of the services to flourish. As he leaves office, the companies now have to consider the concerns of Democrats, who have said the companies do too little to combat hate speech and misinformation on their platforms.  

Twitter said it would suspend a new account if Trump created one to evade the ban. The company could also limit the use of the @POTUS and @WhiteHouse Twitter accounts, which Trump or his team appears to have tried after the suspension.

Several high-profile Twitter accounts tweeted screen grabs from the @POTUS account in which Trump bashed Twitter's ban and suggested his team was working on a creating a new service. "We will not be SILENCED!" he said in the tweet, which was apparently deleted. (CNET didn't see the tweets, but they were widely circulated on Twitter.)

Twitter will transfer both accounts to the incoming Biden administration, so they won't be suspended unless the company finds it's necessary to prevent real-world harm. 

The @TeamTrump account and the accounts of some Trump advisors were also banned, reportedly for being used in attempts to skirt the suspension of Trump's primary account.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Jason Miller, an adviser to Trump, called Twitter's move "disgusting" in a tweet. "If you don't think they're coming for you next, you're wrong," Miller tweeted. Trump's son Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted that the suspension was "absolute insanity."

A link to Trump's account says it's suspended. His Facebook account has been locked indefinitely. Google-owned YouTube pulled down one of Trump's videos but hasn't locked his account. 

Facebook and YouTube didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Earlier in the day, Twitter banned the accounts of Gen. Michael Flynn, lawyer Sidney Powell and a host of other supporters of the bogus QAnon conspiracy theory embraced by many of Trump's most ardent fans. The baseless theory falsely says that a cabal of Satan-worshipping sex traffickers control the government.

Twitter's actions have already reignited tensions between Twitter and conservatives who are already flocking to alternative platforms such as Parler and Gab with fewer rules. The unprecedented move also puts more pressure on other social networks to ban the president. 

Civil rights groups quickly praised the action, and urged other companies to do the same.

On Friday, the Stop Hate for Profit coalition urged Facebook, Twitter, Google parent company Alphabet and other social media platforms to permanently ban Trump. The group is made up of civil rights and advocacy groups including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change.

"A fitting end to a legacy of spewing hate and vitriol," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a tweet.  "President Trump incited the violent riots at the Capitol using social media & paid the price." 

Other groups such as Muslim Advocates urged Facebook and Google-owned YouTube to take the same action against Trump.

"It is long past time for these companies to take the steps necessary to address pervasive hate and disinformation on their platforms," said Muslim Advocates Media Relations Officer Eric Naing.