The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The abridged history of Twitter’s 11 minutes without @realDonaldTrump

President Trump's personal Twitter account was deactivated for 11 minutes on Nov. 2. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Thursday was, by all accounts, a mostly normal day on Twitter for President Trump.

Early in the afternoon, he took to his favorite social media platform and congratulated the Houston Astros on winning the World Series. He would then tweet several more times over the next few hours, announcing at 6:35 p.m. he had chosen Jerome Powell to become the next Federal Reserve chairman.

What Trump couldn't have known then was that his account would soon briefly cease to exist. For 11 minutes, @realDonaldTrump and its controversial cache of tweets — “covfefe,” the questionable retweets, “Rocket Man,” all of it — simply disappeared.

It's unclear exactly when or how the president found out, though a White House official confirmed Thursday that Trump was aware his account was deactivated.

To the public, news of Trump's Twitter outage was first met with confusion, with barely time to process the information before the account was restored. Those 11 minutes have since been described as both “beautiful” and “terrifying,” with comparisons drawn to everything from “when Andy played the opera record over the Shawshank PA system” and a glitch in the Matrix to the 18½ minutes missing from Richard Nixon's Watergate tapes

For a brief 11 minutes Nov. 2, President Trump’s Twitter account disappeared. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

Here's how it unfolded.

6:48 (or 6:49) p.m.

A rogue Twitter employee, reportedly on his or her last day of the job, apparently deactivates the president's personal account, @realDonaldTrump. The president's personal Twitter page is soon replaced with a light blue background and this message: “Sorry, that page doesn't exist!”

Some time between 6:49 and 6:51 p.m.

Vulture TV columnist Jen Chaney happens to notice the president’s Twitter account is down.

“It was totally a fluke because I don't actually follow that account because I don't want to give him more followers,” Chaney said. “I was writing a piece that has nothing to do with politics, really. But I was alluding to something in the piece related to politics and I was trying to find an example of something Trump had recently said, and I thought I would just go over to his Twitter account. By pure happenstance, I looked up his Twitter feed.

“I looked a couple times and I kept clicking on it. … That's when I just tweeted, hey, did he delete his account? That was really it.”

6:52 p.m.

Chaney tweets perhaps the first widely seen image of Trump’s then-inactive Twitter account.

“I don’t know if that I was the first person to notice. Maybe I was one of the first,” she said. “I didn't know what was going on. As soon as I tweeted it, then other people were responding to my tweet and retweeting it. I assumed that the account was taken down on purpose for some reason. My mind immediately goes to ‘Oh my God, he deleted it. That means Mueller's closer.’

“Which turns out to obviously not be the case. I didn't think he would accidentally delete it — although I suppose anything's possible.”

6:53 p.m.

Derek Mead, the executive editor at Vice, appears to make the same observation, simply tweeting: “hmm.”

From a coffee shop in San Francisco, Ryan Mac, a BuzzFeed tech reporter, sees Mead’s tweet.

“I mean, as all reporters do, they spend a fair amount of time on Twitter. And I saw some chatter about it,” Mac said. “It was more like when a website goes down and a lot of people are trying to figure out, ‘Is it just me?’ You don’t want to look like an idiot and say, oh, this website is down — and then realize your Internet is out. So I think when I saw it, it was the equivalent of that.”

6:54 p.m.

Mac repeatedly checks the account to see if it is, in fact, the president's.

“I clicked it and yeah I saw the exact same thing that [Mead] did. For me, it was like, is this the actual account that went down? There's so many spoof accounts. Some people thought the ‘l’ in ‘real’ was a capital ‘I’. But then I realized it was actually him. I spent like two minutes verifying it and typing it carefully. And then I just screenshotted it and everyone saw it. I threw it in Slack and kind of went from there.”

He also throws it on Twitter:

6:55 p.m.

Casey Newton, a reporter at the Verge, sees Mac’s tweet and immediately quote-tweets it, causing a stir at Verge's San Francisco office, where Newton is at the time.

“I mean, so we know that they've talked about banning Trump,” he said. “We also know that they very much do not want to do it and the nature of their conversations has been, basically, is there any theoretical thing that the president could do that would make us ban him. And so, there was that. Then there was also the fact that Twitter does not proactively communicate things like this. Like when it decides to suspend someone, they're just suspended and then you hear about it hours later or the next day.

“So when the [@realDonaldTrump] account first disappeared, all of us were wondering: Is this it? Did Twitter hit the big red button?”

6:56 p.m.

Newton starts writing a story outlining two possible reasons Trump's Twitter account might have been shut down. Within five minutes, he has a draft.

“This is a new media company, okay? We work very fast over here.”

6:57 p.m.

In the five minutes since Chaney tweeted her image of Trump's inactive account, dozens of people have retweeted and liked it, causing her phone to buzz nonstop.

“My phone was nearby and it started making a lot of noise,” she said. “My son was sitting there and I told him what was going on. And he's like, were you the first one to notice? If so, you're going to be on the news tomorrow.”

Between 6:58 and 6:59 p.m.

The memes, jokes and conspiracy theories are in full force.

Is he getting his account upgraded to 280 characters?

Is Twitter changing his handle to @DonaldTrump?

Is the social media platform exercising some “extreme vetting?”

7 p.m.

@realDonaldTrump is restored.



The president soon resumes tweeting, praising the “Great Tax Cut rollout” and blasting the Democratic National Committee.

Twitter confirms the outage, saying @realDonaldTrump was “inadvertently deactivated due to human error by a Twitter employee.” About two hours later, the company blames a “customer support employee who did this on the employee’s last day” and says it will conduct a full internal review.

The news prompts an “all hands on deck situation” at the Verge.

“We'd discovered the cause and it was somebody saying ‘YOLO!’ on their way out of the building,” Newton said. “When we found out that it was a rogue Twitter employee, I'm at this venture capital event. I am aggressively ignoring all these people and I am just furiously typing in Slack with my colleagues.”

On Twitter, Newton offers a tantalizing tidbit: “I have a quote from the ex-Twitter-employee group I would like to share: ‘We’re now referring to this individual as ‘the legend’, lol.’ ”

Exactly 12 hours after his brief Twitter blackout period, Trump publicly acknowledges for the first time that his account had disappeared.

He does so by tweeting about it.

Read more:

Rogue Twitter employee deactivated Trump’s personal account on last day on the job, company says

The rogue Twitter employee who deleted Trump’s account could face hacking charges

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‘Bing, bing, bing’: Trump reveals his thinking behind firing off all those tweets