Twitter has permanently suspended President Donald Trump, days before the end of his presidency, after he used his account to incite an insurrection on Capitol Hill earlier this week.
Trump’s account has been a singular source of power for him and a delivery vehicle for his worst impulses. It has hosted his lies, racism, threats, and calls for violence. He’s spread dangerous and false conspiracy theories, including the birther lie about President Barack Obama. He’s belittled women and stoked hatred for immigrants. That platform helped propel him to the highest office in the land, and bend the Republican Party to his will while there. As president, Trump frequently used his Twitter account to make presidential proclamations, announce firings, and berate staffers. His tweets regularly came back to hurt him in court.
For years, Twitter allowed it. It wasn’t until Trump began undermining the heart of the nation’s democracy, the electoral process, that it began applying tepid warnings at the bottom of his posts. It took a deadly attempted coup on the nation’s Capitol — which he executed by using Twitter to incite a mob to storm the halls of Congress — for the platform to finally ban him for good.
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company wrote in a blog post. “In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action. Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open.”
The company also seemed to be spurred to action by perceived security threats. In the post, Twitter noted that “plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.”
On Friday evening, Trump put out a statement in which he attacked the decision:
“As I have been saying for a long time, Twitter has gone further and further in banning free speech, and tonight, Twitter employees have coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left in removing my account from their platform, to silence me — and YOU, the 75,000,000 great patriots who voted for me. Twitter may be a private company, but without the government’s gift of Section 230 they would not exist for long. I predicted this would happen. We have been negotiating with various other sites, and will have a big announcement soon, while we also look at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future. We will not be SILENCED! Twitter is not about FREE SPEECH. They are all about promoting a Radical Left platform where some of the most vicious people in the world are allowed to speak freely. STAY TUNED!”
It is hard to overstate the impact this has on Trump, who for years has used Twitter as FDR used the radio or Kennedy the television — his most powerful way to directly communicate with his followers, who numbered almost 90 million at the time of the ban. It also raises questions about how Trump will continue to hold sway over the national conversation, or how he will keep up the possibility of a 2024 presidential campaign.
Trump himself has acknowledged how pivotal his Twitter account is for his personal power. “Without the tweets, I wouldn’t be here,” he told the Financial Times in a 2017 interview.
Even for people who were not typically on Twitter, Trump’s tweets were a constant force in American life for the last four years, with his account blasted across news broadcasts and driving countless days of events both inside and outside of politics. One of the most enduring repeated quotes of the Trump era will likely be from the legions of Republican politicians pressed to answer for Trump’s account, sheepishly and surely falsely responding, “I did not see the tweet.”
Those were obviously lies — they saw the tweet, everyone saw the tweet — because Trump’s account had a direct impact not just over the national mood, but on people’s lives. Early in his administration, in July 2017, he announced, in typical chaotic form, a ban on transgender people from serving in the military.
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……,” Trump tweeted at 12:55 p.m., not completing that extremely tense sentence by the commander in chief for about nine minutes.
“….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” he wrote at 1:04 p.m.
Those tweets were the basis of years of legal arguments. A federal judge ultimately determined them to be “capricious, arbitrary, and unqualified” in a decision suspending the ban.
Trump’s tweets have also heightened tensions with other foreign nations. In January 2018, he repeatedly taunted North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on Twitter, saying “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his.” Kim responded by calling Trump a senile old man. Tensions continued to rise until the two leaders held a summit in June 2018.
Then, in 2020, after US troops assassinated Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani, and Americans feared that they were on the verge of nuclear war with the nation, Trump tweeted that Iran “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
It was also just bizarre to see one of the most powerful people on earth regularly blast out typos, random capitalizations, and utter nonsense to the world. Once, around midnight in May 2017, the person with access to the US nuclear codes just tweeted out a string of nonsense letters: “covfefe.” It was never explained.
He also used his account to amplify once-fringe people and online personalities, occasionally going on a retweet binge of dozens of memes celebrating him and sometimes violently decrying the media or his political opponents. Last June, he retweeted a video that featured someone yelling “white power.”
The move comes days after Twitter temporarily suspended Trump’s Twitter account and threatened to suspend him permanently. Twitter had previously failed to take action against Trump, even when he broke rules that would have led to permanent suspension for ordinary people, because of its policy on world leaders. All of Trump’s thousands of tweets before being banned, documenting some of the most momentous and absurd periods of his presidency, are now gone from his account.
Jason Miller, a Trump political adviser, tweeted Friday night that the move is “disgusting” and that “Big Tech” is “coming for you next.”
Twitter attributed its decision to ban Trump to two tweets, both tweeted Jan. 8:
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
According to Twitter’s blog post explaining the ban, the company interpreted those tweets in the context of the Jan. 6 riots. As such, the platform said that Trump’s tweets violated its Glorification of Violence policy.
Following the ban on his main account, Trump posted a series of tweets on the official @POTUS account that were almost immediately taken down and replaced with a notice that “This Tweet is unavailable.”
According to a Twitter spokesperson, “As we’ve said, using another account to try to evade a suspension is against our rules. We have taken steps to enforce this with regard to recent Tweets from the @POTUS account.”
Twitter later permanently suspended Trump’s campaign account for for “ban evasion” after it tried to tweet the president’s statement. Twitter said the entire account was banned because it’s nongovernmental, unlike @POTUS, which was allowed to remain minus the offending tweets.
Following Wednesday’s coup attempt, social media companies have been cracking down on extremist content that they allowed to fester for years. Trump is banned from Facebook until at least the end of his term. Trump has had an account on Gab — a social network known for being friendlier to far-right extremists than Twitter — since 2016. He has just under 500,000 followers there at the time of writing. In the minutes after Trump’s Twitter ban, Gab’s website went down.
Early Friday, Twitter banned accounts “that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content,” including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump attorney Sidney Powell, and 8kun co-owner Ron Watkins.
Shortly before his inauguration in 2017, Trump told the Sunday Times why his @realdonaldtrump account was so powerful. “I can go bing bing bing,” he said, “and they put it on and as soon as I tweet it out — this morning on television, Fox, ‘Donald Trump, we have breaking news.’” And he noted, “I think I’ll keep it.”
Now, on the eve of yet another inauguration, Twitter took it away.