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Wednesday March 3rd, 2021 6:52PM

Pressure mounts on social platforms to ban Trump for good

By The Associated Press

In the wake of Wednesday's deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, calls are mounting for Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms to suspend President Donald Trump's access to social media — permanently.

Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, on Thursday suspended Trump’s account for at least two weeks, and possibly indefinitely. Twitter, however, merely revoked Trump's posting privileges for 12 hours after he posted a video that repeated false claims about election fraud and praised the rioters who stormed the Capitol.

On Friday, the company permanently banned two Trump loyalists — former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell — as part of a broader purge of accounts promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory. Twitter said it will take action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm.

“Given the renewed potential for violence surrounding this type of behavior in the coming days, we will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content,” Twitter said in an emailed statement. The company also said Trump attorney Lin Wood was permanently suspended Tuesday for violating its rules, but provided no additional details.

The company says that when it determines a group or campaign is engaged in “coordinated harmful activity,” it may suspend accounts that it finds primarily encourages that behavior.

Social media companies have been under intensified pressure to crack down on hate speech since a violent mob egged on by Trump stormed the Capitol. Dozens of QAnon social media accounts were hyping up Trump's Jan. 6 rally in the heart of Washington, expressing hope that it could lead to the overturn of the election results.

On Friday, the advocacy coalition Stop Hate for Profit launched a campaign to pressure the major platforms, including YouTube owner Google, to kick Trump off their services for good. The organization, which includes the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press and Color of Change, said it will call for an advertiser boycott if the platforms don’t take action by Jan. 20, the date of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Last summer, the coalition organized a monthlong ad boycott of Facebook that ultimately involved hundreds of companies to push for more assertive action on hate speech at the social network.

Some federal lawmakers and celebrities have likewise called on the tech companies to extend suspensions or ban Trump altogether. Frank Pallone, a powerful Democratic congressman from New Jersey, tweeted that “It's time for (Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey) and Mark Zuckerberg to remove Trump from their platforms.”

“President Trump’s platform on social media has been used to incite violence and insurrection," said Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, in an emailed statement. “Facebook and Instagram made the correct decision in banning President Trump for at least the remainder of his term and I will continue to urge Twitter and other platforms to do the same.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted Thursday that Silicon Valley companies should stop enabling Trump's “monstrous behavior” and called for them to permanently ban Trump and enact policies to prevent their technology from being used by national leaders to ”fuel insurrection.”

One former Twitter official has called on the platform to suspend Trump’s account in a way that would block anyone from following him and keep past tweets invisible for an indefinite period. It's a change in position for Adam Sharp, Twitter’s former head of news, government, and elections, who tweeted Thursday that he had “long been a defender of Twitter's permissiveness” regarding Trump's violations of its rules. Sharp left the company in 2016.

Trump resumed tweeting Thursday. Twitter has said it could take further action as it kept track of “activity on the ground and statements made off Twitter.”

Other tech companies also acted against Trump's accounts, citing threats of violence. Snapchat locked Trump’s account “indefinitely.” Twitch, the live-streaming site owned by Amazon and used by Trump’s campaign to stream speeches, disabled Trump’s account until he leaves office. E-commerce company Shopify shut down two online Trump memorabilia stores.

YouTube announced more general changes that will penalize accounts spreading misinformation about voter fraud in the 2020 election, with repeat offenders facing permanent removal. Reddit on Friday banned a forum for Trump supporters, called “donaldtrump."

Whether the external pressure will lead to a policy change at Twitter is unclear, said Sinan Aral, social media researcher and director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. But it is more in the spotlight because other companies have taken more aggressive steps, which could influence its decision-making. “Being the platform that is now making the proactive decision to give the microphone back kind of puts you in the spotlight," he said.

Some criticized tech companies for blocking or barring Trump. Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is seen as friendly to Trump, on Thursday said, “I don’t like anybody being censored or taking away from the the right to post a message on Twitter or Face(book). I don’t agree with that, I don’t accept that." He said the issue should be decided by government and not private companies.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Elections, General Election News, General Presidential Election News, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News, AP Technology News
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