Facebook Inc has taken the unprecedented step of blocking United States President Donald Trump’s social media accounts on its platforms for the remaining 13 days of his presidency and possibly beyond, the company’s CEO announced Thursday.
Facebook, which owns photo-sharing app Instagram, will also block his account there, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post the day after Trump supporters breached the US Capitol building in a violent, unruly mob, forcing lawmakers to flee and the complex to be placed under lockdown for several hours.
“We believe the risks of allowing President Trump to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great, so we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks,” Zuckerberg wrote in his post that explained the decision Thursday.
Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives had gathered to certify the US election results in favour of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, but were forced to flee when protesters entered the building after being told by Trump at a Wednesday morning rally to go to the Capitol.
At least four people died in the post-election riots at the Capitol Wednesday. So far, 52 people have been arrested in connection with the events at the Capitol, according to Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee.
The FBI has also asked people to submit photos, videos and tips identifying those who were inciting violence that day.
Lawmakers returned to continue their work after the building was deemed safe at 8pm (01:00 GMT) Wednesday, formally certifying Biden’s victory in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Trump has frequently used social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to speak directly to his followers and issue policy decisions, in contrast with former US presidents.
Facebook has faced criticism from lawmakers and some of its own employees in the past over how it handles disinformation related to the presidential election, as well as posts by Trump that contain falsehoods.
Zuckerberg said Facebook had “allowed President Trump to use our platform, consistent with our own rules, at times removing content or labeling his posts when they violate our policies. We did this because we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech.”
But, Zuckerberg wrote, “the current context is now fundamentally different, involving the use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
The certification of the election results — typically a formality — became a chaotic and violent scene Wednesday as Trump’s supporters succeeded in breaching the Capitol and entering the building, halting the vote certification process and causing damage to the building’s offices and historic art and sculptures.
Twitter Inc also locked the president’s account after moving on Wednesday to remove several of his tweets that the platform deemed were in violation of its rules.
Trump has less than two weeks left in office before Biden is inaugurated on January 20.
But the head of a major business group, the National Association of Manufacturers, urged Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday to “seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to preserve democracy”. That amendment to the US Constitution allows for the removal of a sitting president from office if he or she is deemed unfit to lead.
Other industry groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, also issued statements urging Trump to accept the results of the election and eschew the violence that was on display Wednesday.
The major US stock indices opened higher Thursday as investors looked beyond the chaos of Wednesday and toward the Biden administration, which is expected to up the amount of coronavirus relief aid to struggling businesses and families.
The violence Wednesday at the Capitol followed the runoff election of two Democratic senators in Georgia, which gives Biden and the Democratic Party narrow control of the Senate in addition to control of the House of Representatives.