By Hannah Denham
Some of the biggest names in tech have taken aggressive steps against the inflammatory rhetoric of President Donald Trump and some of his allies that culminated last week with a mob of his supporters storming the U.S. Capitol while Congress was attempting to certify the election of Joe Biden as the nation's 46th president.
The moves are meant to guard against further efforts to incite violence and come after months of Trump's relentless and unfounded allegations of voter fraud and his refusal to accept his loss in the 2020 election. The platforms have been met with cries of censorship from Trump's allies and reluctant applause from others who see the efforts as long overdue. Here's how the platforms cracked down on Trump and his supporters:
Twitter has been slapping labels on Trump's posts that he won the 2020 election since November: "This claim about election fraud is disputed." The platform didn't attempt to limit his 88 million followers from viewing or sharing such postings, as it had in June for Trump's tweets labeling the people demonstrating as a result of the police killing of George Floyd as "THUGS."
Fast-forward to Wednesday, Jan. 6: The platform locked Trump out of his account for 12 hours after the Capitol assault and said it wouldn't return access until he deleted three tweets that violated its content policy. Two days later, following two incendiary tweets from Trump, Twitter announced a permanent ban on his account. The platform also later suspended @POTUS, the official account for the presidency, and his @TeamTrump campaign account after Trump attempted to try to skirt the ban.
Two Twitter accounts belonging to pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood were permanently suspended Jan. 7 over tweets that the platform said incited violence. One of the accounts, @FightBackLaw, was apparently being used to dodge the ban.
Twitter flagged a Saturday tweet by Rudolph Giuliani that linked to his appearance on the Stephen Bannon podcast "War Room," and attached this label: "This claim of election fraud is disputed, and this Tweet can't be replied to, retweeted or liked due to a risk of violence." Giuliani is Trump's personal lawyer and one of the loudest proponents of the president's debunked election fraud narrative, and he had falsely claimed on the podcast that the Capitol rioters were "trained anarchists" attempting to frame Trump. Twitter said that the tweet violated its civic integrity policy.
Twitter permanently banned Bannon, a former White House chief strategist, following the Nov. 3 election after he suggested in a video that Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be beheaded.
Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, was subjected to a 12-hour ban until he removed a tweet in July, which included a video clip purporting the conspiratorial effects of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine against the novel coronavirus.Twitter said this violated its covid-19 misinformation policy. His account remains active.
Longtime Trump ally Roger Stone was permanently banned in 2017 after mocking prominent journalists and media personalities, which Twitter said violated its abusive behavior rules.
On Jan. 8, two days after the Capitol riot, Twitter began purging conspiracy theory QAnon-affiliated accounts en masse, removing more than 70,000 by Tuesday, the company said in a blog post. Twitter cited an increased risk of harm between online speech and real-world events.
"We apply our rules impartially for all people on our service, regardless of background or political affiliation," a Twitter spokeswoman said in an email. "We're constantly learning and improving in our efforts to serve the public conversation, and we'll continue to be transparent with the public in this work."
- Facebook and Instagram
Facebook and its photo-sharing service, Instagram, suspended Trump for 24 hours starting Jan. 6 after he posted a video telling the mob that breached the Capitol to go home while also saying "we love you, you're very special."
The next day, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced that Trump would be banned indefinitely though at least through the presidential transition.
"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 post. "We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great."
In July, the platform removed more than 100 pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram affiliated with Stone for using fake accounts to spread misinformation, the company said at the time.
Facebook and Instagram representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Google-owned YouTube suspended Trump's channel for at least a week late Tuesday, announcing that it removed a video of his Tuesday morning news conference "in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence" that constituted his first strike. The platform also indefinitely disabled comments from his channel.
The move marked the strongest yet from the platform which, according to a thread tweeted by YouTube Insider, had said it would issue strikes to any channel posting videos with false claims - including about widespread voter fraud - that violate the platform's policies. The company said it has removed thousands of videos in the past month, including several posted by Trump, that "spread misinformation claiming widespread voter fraud changed the result of the 2020 election." Channels with one strike are temporarily suspended from posting or live-streaming; three strikes within three months will warrant permanent removal.
The platform had removed the Bannon video regarding Fauci and Wray - his first strike - and suspended his channel for one week. Then, YouTube permanently banned Bannon's channel "War Room" after he published videos that YouTube said violated its election misinformation policy, including the Giuliani appearance.
In an open letter released Thursday, the Alphabet Workers Union condemned the Capitol riot and said that YouTube and other social platforms have a responsibility to face the "growing fascist movement in the US." The group, which includes full-time and temporary employees at Google and other Alphabet-owned companies in the U.S. and Canada, said it had warned YouTube executives about the danger of not removing content with hate, harassment and discrimination from the platform.
"We warned our executives about this danger, only to be ignored or given token concessions, and the results have been suicides, mass murders, violence around the world, and now an attempted coup at the Capitol of the United States," the letter said. "Once again, YouTube's response yesterday was lackluster, demonstrating a continued policy of selective and insufficient enforcement of its guidelines against the use of the platform to spread hatred and extremism."
- Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services cut off the social media site Parler over the weekend after users glorified the Capitol riot and violated its terms of service.
Parler has seen a surge of new users since the November election as Trump supporters flocked to the platform for its hands-off approach to content moderation. Many Parler users posted plans to gather at the U.S. Capitol before last Wednesday's attack, and expressed support for the rioters in its aftermath.
The action came after Google and Apple removed the Parler app from their app stores.
Hours after it was pulled offline, Parler filed a federal lawsuit against Amazon, claiming the Web host breached its contract. Parler CEO John Matze called the actions "a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the marketplace." (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The social media platform indefinitely suspended Trump's account on Jan. 6, citing concern over the possible spread of hate speech and threats of violence, a Snap Inc. spokeswoman said. The action comes after a decision in June to stop promoting Trump's Snapchat account on the Discover page of the app.
"This does not mean that we will remove content that people disagree with, or accounts that are insensitive to some people," Snap CEO Evan Spiegel wrote in a June memo. "But there is simply no room for debate in our country about the value of human life and the importance of a constant struggle for freedom, equality, and justice."
In June, Reddit banned r/The_Donald and a slew of other pro-Trump pages that were prone to violent threats and misinformation for violating the platform's policy. Following Wednesday's violence, the platform also banned subreddit r/DonaldTrump, a hub for "Stop the Steal" conspiracy theorists that encouraged users to go to the U.S. Capitol.
"Reddit's site-wide policies [reddithelp.com] prohibit content that promotes hate, or encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence against groups of people or individuals," the platform said in an emailed statement. "In accordance with this, we have been proactively reaching out to moderators to remind them of our policies and to offer support or resources as needed. We have also taken action to ban the community r/donaldtrump given repeated policy violations in recent days regarding the violence at the U.S. Capitol."
Amazon-owned video service Twitch disabled Trump's channel indefinitely on Thursday in response to the Capitol riot. "Given the current extraordinary circumstances and the President's incendiary rhetoric, we believe this is a necessary step to protect our community and prevent Twitch from being used to incite further violence," the company said in an emailed statement.
Oath Keepers, a far-right, self-proclaimed militia group made up of current and former military, police and first responders, said it was kicked offline by LiquidWeb, a cloud and web-hosting company.
The group said its website, oathkeepers.org, was inaccessible starting Tuesday afternoon. In a post to a closed group on the social network app Mewe, the organization blamed LiquidWeb for taking down its site and caving to "the Loony Left" and promised to rebuild a new site soon. LiquidWeb did not respond to requests for comment.
The anti-government organization's founder, Stewart Rhodes, has said the Oath Keepers will refuse to recognize Biden's election and will resist the presidential transition. Before the Capitol riot, a video featuring Sam Andrews, a Missouri gun-range manager and former member of the Oath Keepers, spread rapidly on right-wing sites urging followers to swarm Washington "armed, in large groups." ProPublica and Frontline reported that at least eight individuals wearing Oath Keepers gear, as well as Rhodes, were identified in footage from Wednesday's assault.
Cindy Otis, the vice president of analysis at Alethea Group, an organization combating disinformation, said individuals and organizations like Oath Keepers are pivoting to platforms with less monitoring and encouraging their members to stay active and organize locally for the long-term.
"Companies are sort of making the decision now that they essentially don't want to host those kinds of groups and certainly what we've seen across the board, not just with a group like Oath Keepers, but other individuals that have been removed from social media platforms or had their ability to verify content removed," she said. "This isn't ceasing operations."
The Washington Post