On Wednesday evening, after President Donald Trump incited a riot at the U.S. Capitol and then continued to spread lies about the election online, several major social media platforms took unprecedented enforcement actions against his accounts, including temporarily blocking Trump from posting anything new. Then, Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday that Trump would not be allowed to use Facebook and Instagram for the next two weeks—at least until Inauguration Day and maybe longer.
“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”
The platform originally announced Wednesday that it would be blocking Trump from posting for 24 hours after his account sent out posts throughout the day falsely claiming the election had been stolen and offering kind words to the rioters. One post contained a video address in which he repeated election lies and said to rioters, “We love you, you’re very special,” before telling them to “go home now.” That video and a few other posts were removed. Facebook also announced late Wednesday afternoon that it would be searching for and removing content that praises the Capitol storming, calls for weapons and further violence, or encourages any protests that violate D.C. curfews. As part of this, the platform said that it would be taking down “videos and photos from the protestors,” labeling such content as a “promotion of criminal activity.” A Facebook spokesperson told Slate that moderators would be working to distinguish images posted by rioters who were inside the Capitol from those posted by other users who want to condemn, discuss, or raise awareness about the events. She added that it would be a challenging task that will take time.
The two-week block is the most severe enforcement action that Facebook, or any other major social media platform, has taken against Trump. It is perhaps surprising that Facebook was the first to go this far since Zuckerberg went on a crusade in 2019 to defend the platform’s decision to host fallacious Trump campaign ads that TV news networks refused to run. He ended up delivering a 45-minute sermon at Georgetown University about the importance of free speech on social media. In his Thursday post, Zuckerberg attempted to distinguish between his permissiveness then with his hard line now, arguing that Facebook gave Trump more latitude over the past few years because the public deserves to have access to controversial political speech. It was the introduction of violence, according to the CEO, that changed the calculus. “The current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government,” he wrote. (It’s worth noting that Trump’s stoking of inflammatory conspiracy theories and falsehoods are what ultimately led to Wednesday’s violence.)
While Facebook has imposed the harshest sanctions thus far, other social media platforms stepped up enforcement as well. As Capitol descended into chaos, Twitter also began applying misinformation labels to the president’s Wednesday posts, which contained the same messages as the Facebook ones, before hiding them from view altogether. After a chorus of tech researchers, advocates, and other appalled onlookers called for the president to be kicked off the platform, Twitter locked his account until he agreed to take down three of his most egregious tweets. Trump ended up removing the tweets sometime over Wednesday night going into Thursday morning, and he will regain access after an additional 12-hour block. Twitter said that the enforcement was in response to “repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity Policy” and threatened to permanently suspend the account if he made further violations in the future. (Twitter’s Civic Integrity Policy prohibits interference in civic processes like elections.) YouTube also removed Trump’s Wednesday video address from his channel, telling CBS it “violated our policies regarding content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Election.” On Thursday, the platform said it would additionally give strikes to any channels that disseminate misinformation about the election.