Facebook will suspend president Donald Trump’s account for the remainder of his term in office, as social media platforms were accused of helping foment the violence by pro-Trump protesters that erupted in the Capitol on Wednesday.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of the world’s largest social media platform, said in a blog post on Thursday that the US president would be locked out of posting on his Facebook and Instagram accounts “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete”.
The statement is Facebook’s most drastic rebuke of a global leader to date.
Mr Zuckerberg said Mr Trump was wielding the platform “to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government”, adding: “We believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”
The move extends a shorter 24-hour ban announced by the platform on Wednesday following the unrest. It is a remarkable volte-face for Mr Zuckerberg, who has long argued that private companies should not be the “arbiter of speech” and has often allowed rule-breaching posts by politicians to remain on its platform, deeming it to be “in the public interest”.
The president posted a video on Wednesday afternoon in which he told the Washington protesters to “go home” — but offered them sympathy, declaring his “love” for them and reiterating claims that the election was “stolen” and “fraudulent”.
In a separate post, Mr Trump described the unprecedented storming in the Capitol — during which four people died — as the result of an “election victory” being “viciously stripped away from great patriots”.
Both Facebook and Twitter faced a torrent of criticism over the past 24 hours for failing to stem the spread of pro-Trump conspiracy theories, hate speech and domestic extremism online.
The indefinite ban means the president will lack a vital mouthpiece in the lead-up to the inauguration of the Democratic president-elect Joe Biden on January 20.
Separately, a 12-hour suspension of Mr Trump’s Twitter account was lifted on early on Thursday, although the president did not immediately resume tweeting.
The company was the first to block his account on Wednesday for “repeated and severe violations” of its civic integrity policies, which ban misleading posts designed to interfere in the election process. It had added that future violations of its rules by the account would result in its “permanent suspension”.
Twitter said the company was “continuing to evaluate the situation in real time, including examining activity on the ground and statements made off Twitter”.
YouTube also took down Mr Trump’s video, citing new policies banning claims of widespread election fraud.
Facebook also said it was taking other emergency measures in response to Wednesday’s events, such as automatically disabling comments on posts in groups that “start to have a high rate of hate speech of content that incites violence”, and removing photos and videos posted by the protesters from its platform as they “represent promotion of criminal activity”.
Trump supporters took to Twitter to complain that the president was being “censored”, with one far-right podcaster Matt Couch saying “Big Tech must be stopped!”.
By contrast, many experts and activists argued that the actions did not atone for the platform’s perceived failure to act sooner, while others called for a complete social-media ban for Mr Trump. Democratic senator Mark Warner, the incoming chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said “these isolated actions are both too late and not nearly enough”.
He added: “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, co-ordinate and in many cases (particularly with respect to YouTube) generate profits from their violent, extremist content.”
The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a collective of Facebook critics from academia, business and politics, said the mob assault on the Capitol “showed that Facebook is not fit to police itself”.
Other businesses also moved to limit their services to the president. Shopify said it had deactivated two stores on the ecommerce platform that were affiliated with Mr Trump — cutting off merchandise sales on the president’s official website.
“Shopify does not tolerate actions that incite violence,” the company said. “Based on recent events, we have determined that the actions by President Donald J Trump violate our acceptable use policy, which prohibits promotion or support of organisations, platforms or people that threaten or condone violence to further a cause.”
Additional reporting by Dave Lee in San Francisco