Facebook and Twitter removed several messages posted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday as hundreds of his supporters turned into a violent mob attacking the U.S. Capitol, an extraordinary step by the social media giants that they had largely resisted during his four-year administration.
Twitter added that Trump’s personal account would be locked for 12 hours following “repeated and severe” violations of its policies. Future violations, it said, could result in the account’s permanent suspension. Shortly after that, it was reported Facebook was blocking him for 24 hours. (Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it, too, would impose a 24-hour ban.)
The moves came as rioters stormed the halls of Congress, forcing Capitol office buildings to evacuate and lawmakers to shelter in place as law enforcement worked to protect the seat of the U.S. government. As a bipartisan group of lawmakers released strong statements condemning the violence, Trump released a terse missive that, while urging people to “stay peaceful,” told the rioters he loved them and that they were “very special.”
“We have to have peace, so go home,” he said. “We love you, you’re very special.”
He later added a more direct message of support:
“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,” Trump tweeted. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Facebook took the minute-long video down after attaching several warning labels to it.
“This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity. “We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.”
A Facebook spokesperson later told The New York Times that the decision to block Trump for 24 hours came after a review of policy violations.
“We’ve assessed two policy violations against President Trump’s page which will result in a 24-hour feature block, meaning he will lose the ability to post on the platform during that time,” the spokesperson said.
Twitter followed suit shortly afterward after attaching its own notices that Trump’s comments were “disputed” and blocking the ability to reply, retweet or like the posts. The video still garnered more than 13 million views before the video was taken down.
“As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy,” Twitter said in a statement.
The company added that Trump’s account would be locked for 12 hours and remain locked unless the offending tweets are removed.
The move by two of Trump’s most powerful messaging tools was an extraordinary act that matched the unprecedented nature of the insurrectionists that descended on Washington. At least one person died Wednesday after being shot during the riot, although the circumstances of the woman’s death were not immediately clear.
Trump has refused to concede the 2020 election to President-elect Joe Biden after losing the popular vote by more than seven million votes and the electoral vote by 306-232. But joined by such allies as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump has baselessly insisted the election was “rigged” and that he won “in a landslide.”
The more that such assertions have been rejected in court cases and disputed by the officials in charge of their state’s election, the more Trump has intensified his rhetoric. On Wednesday, just before Congress convened to certify the electoral votes, the last step sealing Biden’s win, Trump continued to air his grievances in an harangue to a throng of supporters at a rally on the National Mall. He called on them to keep up their protests, and thousands of them then descended on the Capitol, quickly overwhelming the building’s police force.
Biden, in comments Wednesday afternoon, condemned the mob’s actions as an “assault on the citadel of liberty” and called on the president to appear on national television to urge his supporters to stop the siege.
“To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices,” Biden said. “It’s not a protest. It’s insurrection. … It borders on sedition.”
Instead, Trump’s responded with the posts that earned him the temporary social media bans.