SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook announced on Thursday that it would block President Trump on its platforms at least until the end of his tenure on Jan. 20, as much of the mainstream online world has vigorously tried to curtail the president after years of inactivity.
But Twitter, which suspended Mr. Trump’s account on Wednesday for posting violating his rules, lifted the ban and allowed the president to tweet. Late Thursday, Mr Trump marked his return to social media by posting a two-minute, 41-second video on Twitter saying he would support a peaceful change of power.
Facebook and Twitter said they made their opposing decisions for different reasons. Mark Zuckerberg, the executive director of Facebook, said in a post that the social network had decided to cut Mr. Trump off because a rampage by pro-Trump supporters in the capital of the country the day before, suggested by the president, had shown that he was trying to undermine the transition to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“We believe the risk that the president will continue to use our service during this time is simply too great,” wrote Zuckerberg. As a result, Facebook and its photo-sharing website Instagram would expand the blocks first set up on Wednesday for Mr Trump’s ability “until the peaceful transfer of power is complete”.
Twitter said on Wednesday that the company saw a “risk of harm” in Mr. Trump’s news, but would only suspend the president’s account permanently if he continued to break his rules. Mr Trump deleted the tweets that led to his account being blocked, Twitter said Thursday, and started a countdown to get his access back on.
The various actions showed how social media companies are still grappling with moderating one of their most powerful and popular users. Mr Trump, who used the websites during his presidency to anger his supporters and harass his enemies, has been constantly harassing Facebook and Twitter by moving the envelope on what the world’s leaders are saying online to be ready.
Before Twitter reintroduced Mr. Trump’s account, it and other social media companies had been part of a growing revolt against Mr. Trump. Twitter began restricting online on Wednesday by temporarily suspending Mr. Trump’s account after posting tweets that violated the rules on calling for violence and discrediting voting.
Facebook followed later. Snap, the maker of Snapchat, has also blocked access to Mr. Trump’s Snapchat account. YouTube on Thursday enacted a stricter electoral fraud misinformation policy to make it easier for the president to be suspended for posting false election claims. Twitch, a video streaming platform, also suspended Mr. Trump’s account on Thursday.
These actions were a remarkable change for a social media industry that has long refused to disrupt Mr Trump’s posts, which have often been filled with falsehoods and threats. Positioning themselves as defenders of free speech and public debate, Facebook and Twitter said it was in the public’s best interest to see what world leaders posted, even when critics attacked the platforms to denounce the unhindered flow of misinformation and allow toxic content.
Lawmakers and even company employees said the platforms waited too long to take serious action against Mr Trump. On Facebook, dozens of workers found the company only banned Mr. Trump from posting after the Democrats secured the presidency and control of the Senate, according to people familiar with the internal talks.
“I am pleased that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are taking long belated steps to combat the president’s continued abuse of their platforms to sow discord and violence. However, these isolated actions are too late and by far not enough.” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat from Virginia.
Derrick Johnson, the president and chief executive of the NAACP, praised Facebook’s decision to suspend Mr. Trump’s account and urged Twitter to do the same.
“The president’s social media accounts are a petri dish of disinformation designed to share and fuel violence at all costs,” said Johnson.
The transition of the president
Jan. 7, 2021, 9:15 p.m. ET
A White House spokesman said no one has been more successful with digital media than Mr Trump and that it was “incredibly ironic, but not surprising, that when the president spoke to the country at a critical time, Big Tech decided to give it censor and prevent him from doing so. Big tech is out of control. “
Over the past year, Facebook and Twitter had taken some steps to flag Mr Trump’s posts as inaccurate and to point users to reliable information. But for the most part they hadn’t been willing to delete Mr. Trump’s messages or restrict his account.
On Facebook, that aversion changed on Wednesday after Mr. Trump attacked his supporters on social media and a mob stormed the Capitol. From home, Mr. Zuckerberg and other executives – including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Head of Politics, Monica Bickert, Vice President of Integrity, Guy Rosen, and Head of International Politics and Communications, Nicholas Clegg – made a video call, to discuss what to do, said two people who were on the phone and were not authorized to speak publicly.
After Twitter suspended Mr Trump’s account late Wednesday, Mr Zuckerberg approved the removal of two posts from the president’s Facebook page, the two people said. By that evening, Mr Zuckerberg had decided to restrict Mr Trump’s Facebook account for the remainder of his tenure – and perhaps indefinitely, they said.
“What we saw and saw in real time on television – it was cruel, a violent riot, deeply troubling,” Zuckerberg said in a conference call with Facebook employees on Thursday that heard the New York Times. “You simply cannot have a functioning democracy without a peaceful change of power.”
Mr Zuckerberg also criticized Mr Trump directly on the phone call, saying the president had “fanned the flames of his supporters as they tried to overthrow the election result”.
Ms. Bickert added that while Mr. Trump’s posts were not direct calls for violence – the standard Facebook uses to remove posts – executives felt that those posts did more to reduce the risk of ongoing violence to decrease than to decrease it.
Alex Holmes, deputy general manager of The Diana Award nonprofit, said outside councils that he was a member of the advisory board on Facebook and Twitter on trust and safety had raised concerns about President Trump’s inflammatory social media posts however ignored.
“What was sometimes lost was understanding how things can lead to offline damage,” he said. “The world is watching now.”
On Twitter, the decision to temporarily suspend Mr Trump’s account on Wednesday came after a discussion among security and policy executives, said a person familiar with the company. They pointed to a clause in Twitter’s policy that said even world leaders could face consequences if they promoted terrorism or made clear and direct calls to violence.
Jack Dorsey, the executive director of Twitter, spent Thursday morning liking and retweeting comments calling for caution over a permanent ban on Mr. Trump, suggesting he would not deviate from the plan to see Mr. Trump again to be included in the service.
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on Mr Dorsey.
The actions of the social media companies went beyond Mr. Trump. Twitter permanently suspended Lin Wood, an attorney who used his account to promote the QAnon conspiracy theory and push the mob on Wednesday. The company also removed a post from Dan Bongino, a Conservative podcast host, on Thursday.
This helped renew right-wing criticism that conservatives were being censored by the platforms headquartered in liberal Silicon Valley. Mr Trump has accused companies of censorship in the past and signed an executive order last year aimed at removing the platforms’ legal protection.
“Speech blocking is going to get worse,” tweeted Mr Bongino before posting the post, which would be removed and result in his account being banned.
Other conservatives railed against Facebook on alternative social media sites such as Parler and Gab, two Twitter-like platforms that the far-right party has joined for its laissez-faire attitude. On Parler, the hashtag #FacebookCensorship was trending on Thursday, while Gab’s “Trending” page featured a full-screen photo of Mr. Zuckerberg headed “Facebook Bans Trump”.
Parler and Gab did not respond to requests for comment.
“The cleanup will only intensify,” wrote a Gab user with the handle @ Winst0n_Smith. “People need to migrate to alternative social media.”
Daisuke Wakabayashi and Sheera Frenkel contributed to the coverage.