Twitter permanently suspends Trump, citing 'risk of further incitement of violence'

A man speaks in front of a microphone.
President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in support of Republican incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue ahead of the Senate runoff in Dalton, Ga., on Monday. Twitter on Friday permanently blocked the @realDonaldTrump account after Trump posted a message that violated the company's rules.
Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images file

Updated: 7 p.m.

Twitter has permanently suspended President Trump from the social media platform over a pattern of behavior that violated company rules.

"After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence," the company said in a statement.

Officials at Twitter said elected officials and world leaders are encouraged to speak freely on the platform.

"However," Twitter noted. "We made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things. We will continue to be transparent around our policies and their enforcement."

President Trump's Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has been permanently suspended, the company announced.
President Trump's Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has been permanently suspended, the company announced.
Twitter/Screenshot by NPR

Trump's Twitter account, which had more than 88 million followers, was removed following the company's warning the president it would happen if he did not stop abusing the platform, including his attempts to sabotage the results of the November election by peddling false claims.

The move is a stunning fall from grace for Trump, who assembled a massive national following, in large part through the prolific use of his Twitter feed. The platform was his preferred tool for announcing major changes in federal policy — and even changes in personnel. He occasionally fired Cabinet secretaries and aides via tweet.

He took pride in his ability to get around the mainstream media and drive cable news with tweets he compared to "a rocket ship."

"I call Twitter a typewriter," Trump told a White House summit with right-wing social media provocateurs in 2019.

"I go, 'Watch this.' Boom. I press it, and within two seconds, 'We have breaking news,' " he said.

But Trump used his Twitter account to do more: routinely disparage, attack and threaten his rivals. Researchers say Trump's tweets supercharged falsehoods about racial justice protesters, the coronavirus and the election, among many other topics.

Inspired and encouraged by the president's rhetoric — on and off social media — thousands of rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. That marked a turning point for Twitter, but it initially stopped short of permanently banning the president and instead limited his access for several hours.

At the White House, officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Jason Miller, who was a top adviser to Trump during his campaign, called the ban "disgusting" and said "Big Tech" wanted to "cancel" the 75 million people who voted for Trump.

"If you don't think they're coming for you next, you're wrong," Miller said on Twitter.

Minnesota’s Republican Party swiftly issued a statement Friday evening following the ban, calling the company’s move “irresponsible” and "not the right answer.”

“Twitter could have continued to delete specific tweets from the President’s account that went against their rules,” wrote Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota. “[Twitter’s decision] will have many unforeseen consequences.”

Twitter's move on Friday comes after Facebook and Instagram banned Trump for at least two weeks. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said permitting the president to continue to use the platform during the presidential transition posed a risk that was "simply too great."

Researchers who study the spread of conspiracies online have said the mayhem that unfolded on the Capitol may have been avoided had the major social media platforms done more to suppress baseless claims about election fraud.

A man is shown speaking on a video screen.
President Donald Trump is seen on TV from a video message released on Twitter addressing rioters at the U.S. Capitol, in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Trump told his supporters to "go home" after they stormed the Capitol following a rally during which he repeated his spurious claims of election fraud.
Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images file

For months, the platforms have been warned about the potential real-world dangers, such as political violence, that could occur when falsehoods about an election are amplified on social media, said Ryan Calo, a cyber law professor at the University of Washington.

"I am disappointed," Calo said during a briefing with the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of misinformation experts. "At how much of a pass the platforms are getting based on saying that they didn't realize that this was a possibility. I think they specifically knew. And I am amazed that it's taken a literal insurrection to even pause this demagoguery on their platforms."

Trump still has access to official White House accounts while in office, such as @POTUS and @WhiteHouse — but his access to those accounts end on Jan. 20, the first day of Joe Biden's presidency.

The final tweet from @realDonaldTrump, sent Friday, read, "To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th."

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

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