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Twitter, Facebook freeze Trump accounts as tech giants respond to storming of US Capitol

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – Twitter and Facebook Inc on Wednesday (Jan 6) temporarily locked the accounts of US President Donald Trump, as tech giants scrambled to crack down on his baseless claims about the US presidential elections amid riots at the US Capitol. 

Twitter hid and required the removal of Mr Trump’s tweets “as a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, DC”, after pro-Trump protesters stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to force Congress to block the appointment of President-elect Joe Biden. 

Facebook later tweeted it would block Mr Trump’s page from posting for 24 hours due to two policy violations. 

Twitter locked Mr Trump’s account for 12 hours and said that if the tweets are not removed, the account would remain locked, meaning the president would be unable to tweet from @realDonaldTrump.

Facebook and YouTube, owned by Alphabet’s Google, also removed a video in which Mr Trump continued to allege the presidential election was fraudulent even as he urged protesters to go home. 

The video was removed from Instagram and the president’s account there would also be locked for 24 hours, Mr Adam Mosseri, chief of Facebook-owned Instagram, said in a tweet. 

YouTube did not take any further immediate action against his account.

For years, Twitter has been Mr Trump’s preferred way to disseminate information directly to the public.

Since November, Mr Trump has tweeted regularly without evidence that the election, which he lost to Mr Joe Biden, was “rigged.”

The company has labelled dozens of Mr Trump’s posts as disputed or misleading, but Wednesday was the first time the president has been kicked off the platform even temporarily.

Twitter is requiring him to delete three tweets, and threatened to ban Mr Trump entirely if he continues to break the rules. 

“Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account,” the company tweeted from its @TwitterSafety handle. 

The video that Mr Trump was asked to remove showed the president addressing rioters at the US Capitol.

Mr Trump told them to “go home,” but also called the election result “fraudulent.”

Google’s YouTube and Facebook also removed the same video from Mr Trump’s official pages. 

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, said it’s appalled by the riots and is removing all praise of the storming of the Capitol, calls to bring weapons to certain locations across the US, and videos and photos from Capitol protesters.

“At this point they represent promotion of criminal activity which violates our policies,” the company said in a blog post. 

Another Mr Trump tweet that was blocked, which appeared as the violence unfolded, read “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.”

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Twitter has been under pressure for years to take a tougher stance against Mr Trump’s account, which he often uses to spread inflammatory attacks and misinformation.

Calls for Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey to ban the president were widespread on Wednesday.

Mr Trump’s supporters had gathered in Washington for a speech in which he encouraged them to demand the election be overturned. 

In the past, Twitter has come up with other rules to limit the spread of Mr Trump’s incendiary posts without removing them entirely, including warning labels that obscure the content of messages, arguing against their removal on the grounds of news value coming from a world leader.

But Twitter has also taken a firmer line against Mr Trump in recent months.

Executives have said that Mr Dorsey is not the final word on punishing elected leaders and that decision falls to its top policy executive, Mr Vijaya Gadde. 

Twitter first flagged a handful of Mr Trump tweets for misinformation in May, setting off a more aggressive approach to the president’s posts as the 2020 election approached.

Since November, dozens of Mr Trump’s tweets have been hidden or labelled for mischaracterising the election results.

Shortly after the election, Twitter confirmed that when Mr Trump leaves office in January, he will not be considered a world leader, and could be punished more severely for his violations. 

Twitter shares fell about 2 per cent in extended trading after the company’s announcement. 

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