After years of treating President Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric with a light touch, Facebook and Instagram are silencing his social media accounts for the rest of his presidency. The move, which many called long overdue following Wednesday's deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is also a reminder of the enormous power that social-media platforms can wield when they choose.
Facebook and Instagram said Thursday they will bar Trump from posting at least until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
A 12-hour lockdown of Trump's account ended Thursday and the president used his restored account to post a video in which he acknowledged for the first time that his presidency will end soon.
It remains unclear how the platforms will handle Trump once he leaves office and is no longer shielded from enforcement of most rules by his status as a world leader. And some critics saw the moves as cynical efforts by the companies to position themselves for a post-Trump future.
“They no longer have to fear Donald Trump,” said Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, a group that has pushed tech companies to do more to rein in hate speech. He said Facebook’s action was “in the best interest of Facebook” and a way to curry favor with the incoming Democratic president and Congress.
In announcing the unprecedented move, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the risk of allowing Trump to use the platform is too great following the president's incitement of a mob on Wednesday. Zuckerberg said Trump’s account will be locked “for at least the next two weeks” and possibly indefinitely.
“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden," Zuckerberg wrote.
Trump has repeatedly harnessed the power of social media to spread falsehoods about election integrity and the results of the presidential race. Platforms like Facebook have occasionally labeled or even removed some of his posts, but the overall response has failed to satisfy a growing number of critics who say the platforms have enabled the spread of dangerous misinformation.