By Sarah Needleman 

Twitter Inc. said it is banning President Trump's personal account, citing the risk of further incitement of violence and closing off one of his main communications tools following the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his followers.

The announcement late Friday capped two days of sharply escalated action by social-media companies in the wake of the riot in Washington, D.C., amid pressure on the platforms to do more to prevent additional violence.

Five people have died as a result of the riot.

Twitter had initially suspended Mr. Trump from posting on a temporary basis that Wednesday night, saying his tweets had violated its policies. The social-media company allowed him to resume posting on Thursday. Facebook Inc., which also announced a temporary suspension after the riot, announced Thursday that it would extend that action indefinitely -- and at least through the end of Mr. Trump's term. Many critics of the president had called on Twitter to take more severe action as well.

"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," Twitter said in a blog post.

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the suspension.

In a tweet, Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump's campaign, called Twitter's move "disgusting," adding "Big Tech wants to cancel all 75M @realDonaldTrump supporters."

Twitter and Facebook's actions to shut off two of the largest megaphones Mr. Trump has relied on for years to communicate with the public highlights the difficult position social-media platforms face in regulating controversial content on their platforms. Mr. Trump had more than 88 million followers on Twitter and more than 35 million on Facebook.

Conservatives have long complained about social-media platforms' actions to label or remove posts they deem dangerous, abusive or misleading. Some of them have promoted alternatives with far less-stringent content rules, including Parler, a free speech-focused social-media network favored by the right.

In the wake of the Capitol attack, many people have expressed alarm at the role tech platforms played in spreading Mr. Trump's unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election was stolen and angry calls by his followers to take action in response.

Alphabet Inc.'s Google late Friday suspended Parler from its smartphone app store, and Apple Inc. threatened to do the same. Google said it acted because of "continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the U.S.," which violated its requirements for sufficient moderation of egregious content for apps it distributes. "In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app's listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues," a Google representative said.

Apple, citing similar concerns, said Parler has to provide detailed plans about "what you will do to improve moderation and content filtering your service for this kind of objectionable content going forward," according to a notice provided to The Wall Street Journal by John Matze, Parler's chief executive. Apple set a deadline of 24 hours for Parler's compliance.

Other social-media companies placed indefinite bans on Mr. Trump this week, including Snapchat parent Snap Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch. A Snap spokeswoman said Thursday the president's account was locked indefinitely because the company "will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice."

Mr. Trump had tweeted three times since regaining account access Thursday. In his first post, he tweeted a video condemning the violence at the Capitol and acknowledging that a new administration would be inaugurated Jan. 20, without specifically naming Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

On Friday he posted a tweet saying "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!!!" Then later, he said in a tweet that he would not be going to the inauguration.

Mr. Trump won more than 74 million votes, seven million less than Joe Biden received.

Twitter said it issued the ban in response to the Friday tweets, saying the posts violated its glorification of violence policy. Due to ongoing tensions, the company's blog post said, "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."

Mr. Trump's tweets and photo were no longer visible on Twitter as of Friday evening, replaced with a message saying "Account suspended...Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules," and linking to its policies.

Twitter earlier Friday shut off the accounts of Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, and Sidney Powell, a lawyer who worked alongside Mr. Trump's legal team.

The company also said Friday that it suspended several accounts associated with the far-right conspiracy group QAnon for violating its policy on coordinated harmful activity.

Social-media companies have for years grappled with how to handle and whether to moderate content from Mr. Trump, with those efforts growing in the run-up to and after the 2020 presidential election. Those decisions to label or remove content from Mr. Trump, such as those making unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud, have been welcomed by critics but included calls to take stronger measures.

Stop Hate for Profit, a coalition of civil rights and advocacy groups, was among organizations that earlier Friday urged that "the world's largest social media companies finally do the right thing and deplatform the inciter-in-chief before another person is killed or another cherished piece of our democracy is violated."

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt spoke out in favor of the ban on Mr. Trump's personal account, tweeting: "Excellent step by @Twitter, taking the necessary action that #StopHateforProfit demanded. A fitting end to a legacy of spewing hate and vitriol. President Trump incited the violent riots at the Capitol using social media & paid the price. #BanTrumpSaveDemocracy"

Twitter's move along with those by Google and Apple against Parler aroused fresh ire on the right.

Launched in 2018, Parler has billed itself as an alternative to larger social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, touting its embrace of free speech and lack of content recommendation. The platform's popularity increased sharply in recent months though remains far smaller than its major rivals.

Mr. Matze said that Parler believes its existing rules against incitements to violence meet Apple's standards and that the company is confident that "we can retain our values and make Apple happy quickly."

Nonetheless, Mr. Matze said, he was nervous "because the text in their messaging was fairly confrontational."

Catherine Lucey, Jeff Horwitz and Tim Higgins contributed to this article.

Write to Sarah Needleman at Sarah.Needleman@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 08, 2021 21:27 ET (02:27 GMT)

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