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.
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“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.
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.