Social media’s tension with the White House escalated Thursday: After an uprising of Trump supporters breached the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg took to his own network to reveal that he was banning President Trump from the main platform, along with Instagram, indefinitely.
The decision followed Twitter’s 12-hour suspension of the president on Wednesday over tweets that appeared to stoke the unrest. Likewise, Facebook also blocked Trump from posting on its networks for 24 hours. But then Zuckerberg took things a step further.
“We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” he wrote. “Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
YouTube followed suit Thursday afternoon with its own change of policy. After releasing new terms prohibiting election misinformation in December — which prompted the platform to pull down thousands of videos — the Google platform is now pledging to take stronger measures to combat election lies.
The company said it will suspend accounts for single infractions, but three strikes within 90 days will trigger termination. That apparently applies to any channel, including Trump’s, as well as those of far-right media companies like OAN and other loyalists.
These measures are the most assertive taken by Silicon Valley yet, and they cap a years-long feud between Trump and social media platforms. The president and his party have regularly levied accusations of censorship and unfair treatment of conservatives over the last few years.
Although the tech companies have testified to the contrary numerous times, they apparently feel more confident now in overtly muzzling the President, justified as efforts to thwart incitements to riot. And so far, the only critiques are that these moves don’t go far enough.
“While I’m pleased to see social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube take long-belated steps to address the President’s sustained misuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence, these isolated actions are both too late and not nearly enough,” Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., said in prepared remarks.
The shift may also stem from a new political reality. In two weeks, a Democrat trifecta will be complete, with control of the White House, Senate and House. Critics such as Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, think there could be a connection.
It has not escaped my attention that the day social media companies decided there actually IS more they could do to police Trump’s destructive behavior was the same day they learned Democrats would chair all the congressional committees that oversee them.
— Jennifer Palmieri (@jmpalmieri) January 7, 2021
While the pressure on Big Tech over antitrust and privacy won’t go away anytime soon, accusations of censorship or bias against conservatives will likely have far less bite.
What remains to be seen is if the social giants will make good on their pledges in the long term — or if that will continue to drive conservatives to alternatives like Parler and Gab. But so far, activity on these platforms has been swirling, especially in the lead up to and on Jan. 6. Users posted during the chaos in D.C., with “no change without bloodshed” and “this was the inevitable outcome” among the messages of support for the riot.
If Trump winds up in Twitter exile permanently, he may ultimately seek refuge in Parler. He supposedly already set up shop there. When Facebook and Twitter took action against him, an account claiming to belong to the president popped up asking for donations for a 2024 election bid.
Update: On Friday, Twitter permanently shut down President Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account. In a tweet, the company explained the action was “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.https://t.co/CBpE1I6j8Y
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 8, 2021
Seeking a workaround, Trump took to @POTUS with messages accusing Twitter of “banning free speech.” He also teased that he was “negotiating with various other sites” on some sort of “big announcement soon” and exploring “the possibilities of building out our own platform.”
Twitter deleted the posts. In other words, it isn’t stopping at pulling down Donald Trump’s personal account, but exiling the person, regardless of whatever account he tries to occupy — a fact the company confirmed to the media Friday night.
But the online whack-a-mole continued, with the president resorting to @TeamTrump to repost the same deleted tweets. The messages were taken down within minutes and @TeamTrump was permanently suspended.
Twitter also suspended Gary Coby, who steered the Trump campaign’s digital strategy, for his apparent attempt to let Trump set up digital residence in his account. The account’s switch to Trump’s display name and profile photo was a major tip-off.
The president has not only lost his preferred messaging platform, but his expulsion from most major social media platforms effectively neuters his ability to directly communicate with the public — at least for now, negotiations with other platforms notwithstanding.
With few options, Trump might have turned to Parler as his megaphone of choice. The messaging app, which touts a commitment to “free speech,” has become popular with conservatives, particularly over the past few months.
The odds are practically nil, however, as Google and Apple — believing Parler has become a tool for “facilitating illegal and dangerous activities,” in Apple’s words — removed the app from their app stores. In short order, Amazon followed suit. Its Amazon Web Services, which provides cloud hosting for Parler, moved to eject the app from its platform. The eviction is set to take effect Sunday night.
The mass digital shunning enrages Trump acolytes, but pleases others, like Gab.com. The Parler rival announced that, as of Friday, it was seeing 10,000 new users flock to the platform per hour.