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Twitter locks Trump’s account, threatens permanent ban amid Capitol siege

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Social media companies condemned a video posted by President Donald Trump during a withering assault on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, prompting Twitter to lock his account for 12 hours and threaten to permanently ban it.

Facebook and Alphabet excoriated the president but stopped short of saying they would boot him off their services.

The companies face increasing pressure from lawmakers and citizens for acting as digital megaphones for Trump’s tweets and online videos, which have stoked violence and mayhem. One potential impact is reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a crucial internet law that protects social-media sites from being held liable for the content posted by their users.

A Trump video, in which he professed “love” for a riotous mob that stormed the Capitol in protest of his electoral defeat, was liked more than 179,000 times on his Facebook profile.

Facebook Inc.
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flagged the one-minute video for Trump’s insistence that he won the 2020 election by a landslide, and was robbed of the presidency. It later removed the video from its platform, which reaches 2.7 billion active users monthly.

“This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” tweeted Guy Rosen, vice president of integrity at Facebook. “We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”

“The violent protests in the Capitol today are a disgrace,” a Facebook spokesman told MarketWatch. “We prohibit incitement and calls for violence on our platform. We are actively reviewing and removing any content that breaks these rules.”

The situation is even more complicated at Twitter Inc.
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where Trump has 88.7 million followers and his controversial video has been viewed 11.4 million times. Twitter, too, flagged the video. It blocked the video from being replied to, retweeted or liked “due to a risk of violence” before removing it.

Indeed, the removal of the video and two subsequent tweets pushed Trump to the brink of being booted from Twitter.

“In regard to the ongoing situation in Washington, D.C., we are working proactively to protect the health of the public conversation occurring on the service and will take action on any content that violates the Twitter Rules,” Twitter said in a statement to MarketWatch.

But the company, like others, did not say if the president faces any disciplinary action for his tweets beyond flagging them.

A spokesman for Alphabet Inc.’s
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YouTube unit said it “removed a video posted this afternoon to Donald Trump’s channel that violated our policies regarding content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Election. For reference, the video is labeled and still up on Twitter.”

“We do allow copies of this video if uploaded with additional context and sufficient educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic (EDSA) value,” the Google spokesman added.

Still, while the chief executives of Cisco Systems Inc.
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and International Business Machines Corp.
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publicly castigated the mob in Washington, there was no word as of late Wednesday afternoon from the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter.

In an internal post to employees, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called the riots a “dark moment in our nation’s history” and “personally saddened by this mob violence.”

As Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet weigh their options on what to do with Trump’s incendiary social-media rants, some industry observers insist they have no choice but to ban his comments that reach millions of Americans.

“There have been good arguments for private companies to not silence elected officials, but all those arguments are predicated on the protection of constitutional governance,” tweeted Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer, who is a vocal critic of the company. “Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off. There are no legitimate equities left and labeling won’t do it.”

Trump was still at it late Wednesday, with a tweet that some think may eventually force Twitter’s hand. He said: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Twitter flagged and removed the tweet, which was posted around the same time a woman was declared dead from a shooting at the riot.

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