Chaos unfolding in Washington, D.C., as supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, attracted a riveted audience on social media on Wednesday — and backlash against some tech platforms for fostering the very actions many were witnessing.
As images of rioters inside the halls of the Capitol, in lawmakers’ offices and on the floors of both the Senate and House chambers were streamed across Twitter and television, users and viewers reacted in disbelief that America’s deep political divide had reached such a tipping point.
In the Seattle region and elsewhere, tech leaders and watchers weighed in on the violence, as well as what role tech — Twitter, Facebook, et al — had in dealing with it.
Many called for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to immediately suspend the account of President Trump. Late Wednesday, the social media company got close, as it took down three of the president’s tweets for the first time, locked his account for 12 hours and said that Trump could face permanent suspension if he continues to violate its integrity policy. “Delete his account” was trending on the site.
In tweets from the @TwitterSafety feed, Twitter said it took the action after “repeated and severe violations” of its policy by the president.
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. https://t.co/k6OkjNG3bM
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 7, 2021
Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) January 7, 2021
Beyond his role in stoking his supporters at a Wednesday rally aimed at further disputing his loss in the November presidential election, Trump was hammered by commentators all afternoon for failing to do anything meaningful to quell the uprising. He tweeted twice, telling people to respect law enforcement, before posting a video that again made claims of a stolen election — while asking people to please go home.
Twitter slapped a new warning on the video tweet, saying that it could not be replied to, liked or retweeted “due to risk of violence.” And then, around 3:30 p.m. PT, the video tweet and two others were removed from the president’s timeline and “this tweet is no longer available” messages were in their place.
There have been good arguments for private companies to not silence elected officials, but all those arguments are predicated on the protection of constitutional governance.
Twitter and Facebook have to cut him off. There are no legitimate equities left and labeling won’t do it. pic.twitter.com/Nji6A4sJum
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) January 6, 2021
On Facebook, Trump’s posts also drew a warning label, about how the U.S. has laws to ensure the integrity of its elections. But the president’s video address was removed more quickly from Facebook. Guy Rosen, the social media giant’s VP of Integrity, called the scenario an “emergency situation” in a tweet, and in a blog post he wrote on behalf of the company’s leadership team about actions being take.
And later Wednesday, Mike Isaac of The New York Times reported that Facebook was locking Trump out of posting on the site for 24 hours.
This is an emergency situation and we are taking appropriate emergency measures, including removing President Trump’s video. We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) January 6, 2021
In a post on BuzzFeed News, reporter Ryan Mac mocked the moves by multibillion dollar internet companies, writing that their warning labels “are beyond rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. They’re pointing out the dangers of icebergs as people are drowning.” He pointed to groups organizing on Facebook as examples of how easily extremist views are disseminated.
There’s a group called Red State Secession organizing on Facebook (7.8K followers) and Twitter (310 followers) & calling for a Jan. 6 revolution. Their pages link to a website, asking followers to send in home & office addresses + travel routes of perceived “political enemies.” pic.twitter.com/6slMJlZrtt
— Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) January 5, 2021
Here’s more reaction, including from Microsoft President Brad Smith:
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) January 6, 2021
Google CEO Sundar Pichai called the events in D.C. “shocking and scary” in an email to employees that was tweeted by Axios journalist Ina Fried. Puchai said “the lawlessness and violence occurring on Capitol Hill today is the antithesis of democracy and we strongly condemn it.”
Google CEO @sundarpichai
“Holding free and safe elections and resolving our differences peacefully are foundational to the functioning of democracy. … The lawlessness and violence occurring on Capitol Hill today is the antithesis of democracy and we strongly condemn it. pic.twitter.com/aWgDRnRhn9
— Ina Fried (@inafried) January 6, 2021
Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, longtime tech journalist Kara Swisher, and investor Chris Sacca were among those calling on Facebook and Twitter to suspend Trump’s account.
— Nick Hanauer (@NickHanauer) January 6, 2021
Let me say in no uncertain terms @jack @vijaya @kayvz: If you do not suspend Donald Trump’s Twitter account for the next day at least, this mob attack on Congress is also on you. Sorry, but he has incited violence for days, using your tools in large part and you need to act now.
— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) January 6, 2021
You’ve got blood on your hands, @jack and Zuck. For four years you’ve rationalized this terror. Inciting violent treason is not a free speech exercise. If you work at those companies, it’s on you too. Shut it down.
— Chris Sacca 🇺🇸 (@sacca) January 6, 2021
Hadi Partovi, CEO of Seattle-based Code.org, offered some sense of comfort based on his life experiences.
Having had front row seats to a full on revolution (in Iran, in 1979), this situation is scary, yes. US democracy doesn’t have the strength and stability it used to. But this is not what a revolution looks like. It is pandemonium caused by hooligans, and it *will* settle down.
— Hadi Partovi (@hadip) January 6, 2021
In video footage from the Capitol, it was nearly impossible to spot anyone in the crowd of thousands who wasn’t holding up a smartphone to document what was happening. Online personality Tim Gionet, who is known as Baked Alaska, even live streamed from inside the Capitol building on the service DLive, according to Business Insider and tweets of his activity.
Noted nazi/white supremacist/etc Baked Alaska is streaming from inside a Capitol Building office pic.twitter.com/iL5SGAAn1M
— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) January 6, 2021
Many politicians from Washington state were in the Capitol for proceedings to certify the Electoral College victory of President Elect Joe Biden. But the mob forced them to seek shelter and to take to social media to let the outside world know what they were seeing and whether they were safe.
My staff and I are safe. This violent mob will not stop us from carrying out our constitutional duty. My colleagues and I are determined to defend the vote of the people and certify the election results.
— Rep. Suzan DelBene (@RepDelBene) January 6, 2021
— Brandi Kruse (@BrandiKruse) January 6, 2021
In response to questions about my safety: I’m safe and so is my staff, but I condemn in the strongest terms the hate-fueled violence we are seeing in our nation’s Capitol today, as should every leader committed to the peaceful transfer of power in our country.
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) January 6, 2021
I am safe and sheltering in place.
I was one of a dozen Representatives in the gallery above the House floor. We pulled out gas masks and had to get down on the ground. Capitol police barricaded the doors and had guns drawn. We were eventually told that we had to quickly exit.
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 6, 2021