WASHINGTON: Twitter on Wednesday (Jan 6) locked the account of President Donald Trump for 12 hours and threatened its permanent suspension, as tech giants scrambled to crack down on his baseless claims about the US presidential elections amid riots at the US Capitol.
The social media platform hid and required the removal of three of Trump’s tweets “as a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, DC,” after pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to force Congress to overturn the election results.
One woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol building in the chaos.
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If the tweets are not removed, the account would remain locked, Twitter said, meaning the president would be unable to tweet from @realDonaldTrump.
Facebook and YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s Google, also removed a video in which Trump continued to allege the presidential election was fraudulent even as he urged protesters, who had stormed the Capitol to force Congress to undo his loss to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, to go home.
Facebook and YouTube did not take any further immediate action against his account.
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Tech companies have been under pressure to police misinformation on their platforms around the US election, including through calls by users on Wednesday for major platforms to suspend Trump’s accounts.
The president and his allies have continuously spread unsubstantiated claims of election fraud that have proliferated online. Trump on Wednesday blamed Vice President Mike Pence for lacking “courage” to pursue those claims in a tweet that Twitter later took down.
RISK OF VIOLENCE
Facebook’s vice president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeted the social media company believed the president’s video “contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence”, saying the action was part of “appropriate emergency measures”.
It was also taken down from Facebook-owned Instagram.
YouTube said Trump’s video violated its policy against content that alleges “widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Election”. YouTube spokesman Farshad Shadloo added the company does allow copies that include additional context.
Both Facebook and Twitter had originally added labels and measures to slow the video’s spread.
READ: ‘It’s insurrection,’ says Biden, as Trump supporters storm US Capitol
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Dozens of Facebook staffers called for executives to clarify how they were handling Trump’s posts, with some calling for his account to be taken down for inciting the violence at the Capitol, according to internal posts seen by Reuters.
“Can we get some courage and actual action from leadership in response to this behavior? Your silence is disappointing at the least and criminal at worst,” one employee wrote.
Internal communications managers quickly closed comments on the threads, saying in identical posts that updates would be provided but “the priority right now is actively dealing with the ongoing situation”.
According to researchers and public postings, violent rhetoric and advice on weaponry ramped up significantly in the past three weeks on many social media platforms as multiple groups planned rallies for Wednesday, including Trump supporters, white nationalists and enthusiasts of the wide-ranging conspiracy theory QAnon.
The Anti-Defamation League called for social media companies to suspend Trump’s accounts permanently, saying the events at the Capitol resulted from “fear and disinformation that has been spewed directly from the Oval Office”.
Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos tweeted: “Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off.”
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.