Twitter on Friday evening said a “close review” of Trump’s recent tweets “and the context around them, specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter” led to its decision to impose a permanent ban. It came just hours after hundreds of Twitter employees signed an open letter to Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey to impose such a ban.
The company on Wednesday imposed a one-day lock on Trump’s account, preventing him from using it for 12 hours, after a string of tweets by the President that incited and egged on thousands of his supporters forming a mob in Washington, D.C., and violently bombarding the Capitol building with the goal of halting the House and Senate certification of Electoral College votes, which makes formal Joe Biden’s win of the November presidential election.
The illegal takeover of the building forced a lockdown of it and the city of D.C. and had scores of politicians placed in hiding before being evacuated, as Trump’s supporters wandered through the Capitol building, waving Trump and Confederate flags, taking photos and videos of themselves, vandalizing offices and looting, even spreading feces on the walls in some areas, according to several reports.
“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,” Twitter wrote in a blog post on the ban.
The platform also on Friday banned a number of other accounts, including that of Mike Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser, whom Trump pardoned in November and sought dismissal of the criminal case against Flynn for lying to the FBI during its investigation of communications with Russia. Flynn this year vowed an “oath” to the far-right and Trump-supporting conspiracy group QAnon. Twitter on Friday banned several accounts associated with that group as well.
But permanently banning Trump is a move that came as a surprise to many, considering Trump has been using Twitter and other social media platforms, particularly Facebook, for years to communicate with the public, but also spread conspiracy theories that involve support of him and his unfounded notions and peddle what many perceive as violent rhetoric. Last summer, amid resurgent Black Lives Matter protests, he posted to both platforms a statement that read in part, “When they start looting, we start shooting,” and neither of his accounts were affected in any way.
But this week’s siege of the Capitol building by Trump supporters — which led to five deaths, including one police officer, the discovery of several explosive devices, and still just 82 arrests so far despite hundreds of people invading the building — has given such social platforms some amount of willingness to tamp down on their use to incite and plan such actions. Facebook yesterday blocked Trump from the platform and Instagram for at least two weeks, but founder and ceo Mark Zuckerberg said the ban could be “indefinite.” Snapchat, which is not one of Trump’s favored platforms, also banned him.
But his incendiary and often thinly veiled rhetoric and tweets go back years. Comments invoking violence around the summer’s BLM protests, done to bring attention to the ongoing violence against and killing of Black people and people of color at the hands of law enforcement, were just one of many instances of Trump’s social media tone, mainly through Twitter, where he’d amassed more than 80 million followers. Throughout his single term as president, he’s promoted racist stereotypes, misogyny, misinformation and outright lies. And even before his presidency, he used the platform to attack immigrants and promote “birtherism,” the falsified conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in America.
But now, with less than two weeks of his presidency to go, Twitter says it’s “assessed” the ban based on two specific tweets he made on Friday. The first was made just after Trump posted a video of himself stating he would commit to an “orderly transition” to the Biden administration. However, his subsequent tweet read: “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
The second came shortly after that and read: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Under the circumstances, Twitter found that the posts were in violation of its policy on glorification of violence and called for him to be “immediately permanently suspended from the service.”
“These two tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the president’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks,” the company wrote.
It added that the tweet about his not attending the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris “is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim” to an “orderly transition” to the Biden administration. That tweet could also “serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target, as he will not be attending.”
Furthermore, and as was the case in the several weeks before the attempted Wednesday insurrection at the Capitol, Twitter said “Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the U.S. Capitol and state capitol buildings on Jan. 17, 2021.” The 17th is the day before the national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated for his leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, and three days before the inauguration of Biden and Harris.
“Our determination is that the two Tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on Jan. 6, 2021,” Twitter wrote, “and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as encouragement to do so.”
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