Twitter suspended hundreds of accounts that used '#dcblackout' to spread false reports of a communications blackout

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Twitter suspended hundreds of accounts that used '#dcblackout' to spread false reports of a communications blackout
President Donald Trump walks past police in Lafayette Park after visiting outside St. John's Church across from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night.Associated Press
  • Twitter suspended hundreds of "spammy" accounts on Monday related to the "#dcblackout" hashtag.
  • The hashtag was associated with the false claim that the federal government, "jammed protesters' phones, stopping them from making calls or protesting online," according to CBS affiliate WUSA9.
  • Twitter said it suspended said accounts for violating its terms of service, specifically regarding "platform manipulation and spam."

Twitter removed hundreds of accounts on June 1 in an ongoing investigation of accounts tied to the "#dcblackout" hashtag.

The hashtag served as shorthand for a false claim that the US federal government was jamming wireless telecommunications used by protesters in Washington, DC. That claim has been repeatedly refuted, and CBS affiliate WUSA9 in Washington, DC, verified that no such blackout occurred.

The hashtag, which appears to be tied to the intentional spread of misinformation, had gained traction quickly, and was tweeted about 500,000 times in about 9 hours, according to the Washington Post. The first account to use it had only three followers.

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In a statement sent to Business Insider, Twitter directly connected its account purge to a terms of service violation — "platform manipulation and spam," specifically.

"We're taking action proactively on any coordinated attempts to disrupt the public conversation around this issue," the statement said.

Twitter suspended hundreds of accounts that used '#dcblackout' to spread false reports of a communications blackout
A firework explodes by a police line as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Saturday, May 30, 2020, near the White House in Washington.Associated Press/Alex Brandon

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As protests have broken out across the US following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, social media platforms have become a focal point of debate. President Trump's use of said platforms has forced both Twitter and Facebook to reexamine their policies on political speech.

In a series of messages published to his social media platforms, Trump decried the protesters as "THUGS" and threatened violent retaliation.

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts," Trump said on Twitter and Facebook, a direct quote of a notoriously harsh Miami police chief who invoked the phrase against black Americans during the civil rights protests of the late 1960s.

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Twitter suspended hundreds of accounts that used '#dcblackout' to spread false reports of a communications blackout
Trump's tweets, left, and Trump's message on Facebook, right, are identical.Twitter/Facebook

Since Trump posted his messages to social media platforms, which have their own rules of conduct on free speech, his message was flagged by Twitter for "glorifying violence." In order to see the tweet, you must click through a warning that explicitly says the message violates Twitter's usage policies "regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today."

Trump's identical message posted to Facebook remains untouched — despite violating Facebook's Community Standards for conduct.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly argued in favor of exclusions to Facebook's Community Standards as they pertain to what he calls "political speech." That policy may be changing — the company is reportedly reexamining those policies in light of the blowback internally at Facebook.

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