Donald Trump suspended from Facebook indefinitely, says Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO accuses president of intending to undermine peaceful transition of power

Donald Trump will be suspended from Facebook and Instagram indefinitely and at least until the end of his time in office, Mark Zuckerberg has said, as a consequence of his support for the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday.

The US president was initially suspended from the social network for 24 hours, as a result of two posts shared to the platform in which he appeared to praise the actions of the rioters.

In a post to Facebook on Thursday, Zuckerberg said the suspension would last much 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,” Facebook’s chief executive wrote.

“We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. 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.”

The news of the indefinite suspension sparked joy inside the company, where Zuckerberg’s note was cross-posted to Facebook’s internal message board. In comments posted by employees, most praised the decision – a sentiment repeated externally. “I’m not always proud to work at Facebook, but today I am,” wrote Jake Blakeley, an employee of Oculus, the company’s VR division. “This was a strong decision.” And former Facebooker Mary Minno Ioannidis, who now works at Google, said: “This is an incredibly courageous step by the company.”

In private, however, some questioned the timing, noting that it came the day after the Democrats seized control of the Senate, after Congress certified the electoral votes for Biden, and after Trump’s deputy chief of staff, Dan Scavino, committed to an “orderly transition of power”.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, supported the move, but said it was far too late. Warner, a long-time critic of Facebook, told the Guardian: “These isolated actions are both too late and not nearly enough. These platforms have served as core organising infrastructure for violent, far-right groups and militia movements for several years now – helping them to recruit, organise, coordinate and in many cases (particularly with respect to YouTube) generate profits from their violent, extremist content.”

There was also some unexpected opposition to the ban: Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, tweeted that Facebook had “officially silence[d] the President of the United States. For better or worse, this will be remembered as a turning point in the battle for control over digital speech.”

Later on Thursday, YouTube announced it would temporarily suspend any accounts that post lies and misinformation regarding the elections or the storming of the capitol. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from the platform. “We apply our policies and penalties consistently, regardless of who uploads it,” YouTube said.

Snapchat also deplatformed the president, and retail service Shopify kicked Trump’s stores from its platform. The gaming platform Twitch disabled Trump’s account.

Thursday’s developments came after unprecedented action from major social media companies against Trump’s messaging the previous day. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter locked Trump’s accounts and removed several posts from the president, while YouTube removed Trump’s video address.

The initial suspensions, the first the president had faced in his four-year term of office, were derided by many as not being severe enough for the harm inflicted by Trump’s posts.

“Facebook, Twitter and YouTube must terminate Donald Trump’s social media accounts,” said Eric Naing, the media relations officer for the American civil liberties group Muslim Advocates. “After today’s mob violence inside the US Capitol, it is clear that the president’s social media accounts are the world’s most prominent organising tool for violent white nationalists.”

Calls to go further than simply labelling or restricting posts also had some unlikely supporters. Alex Stamos, the former head of information security at Facebook, now a Stanford professor working on technology and civil liberties issues, said the events of Wednesday should help tech companies realise a line had been crossed.

“Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off,” Stamos tweeted. “The last reason to keep Trump’s account up was the possibility that he would try to put the genie back in the bottle but as many expected, that is impossible for him.”

If Trump does continue to violate Twitter rules to the point of being banned from the site, a community of alternative social networks already exists to provide him with an alternative platform.

On Parler, a Twitter clone built to allow users to “speak freely” and populated largely by the far right, a new account claiming to be the president gained more than 13,000 followers in a matter of hours before being taken private on the website.

The president already has a “verified account” on another social network, Gab, with a similar focus, but that account is currently no more than a shell that reposts tweets from Twitter. It is not clear whether it is run by the president’s team or Gab itself.


Alex Hern and Kari Paul

The GuardianTramp

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