Meta is letting its most controversial user – former President Donald Trump – back on Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook and Instagram, along with Twitter, YouTube and Snap, have suspended Trump after the former president praised rioters as they stormed the capital on Jan. 6, 2021. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that Trump was suspended “indefinitely” at the time by to say he was wrong used Facebook to incite “violent revolt” against American democracy.
Two years later, Meta says Trump no longer poses an immediate risk to public safety. On Wednesday, it said it will end the suspension of Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks. The decision follows Twitter’s call last month for the permanent ban on Trump to be reversed.
“The public needs to be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so they can make informed choices at the polls,” Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg wrote in a company blog post. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t limits to what people can say on our platform.”
In the post, Clegg wrote that Meta determined that the risk to public safety was “sufficiently reduced,” but that Meta would add new guardrails to Trump’s future posts if they contributed to “the kind of risk that occurred on January 6.” , such as messages delegitimizing an election or supporting QAnon. The new sanctions include Meta limiting the reach of Trump’s posts in Facebook’s feed, limiting access to advertising tools, and removing the reshare button from offensive posts. If Trump continues to violate Facebook’s rules, the company could suspend him again for anywhere from one month to two years.
It is true that the US is no longer in the middle of a transition of power between presidents, nor under the nationwide pandemic lockdowns that had led to political frustration.
But one thing that not Trump himself has changed. The former president has not recanted any of his election-denying positions rioters said they inspired their violence on January 6. He continues to spread false claims that the The 2020 election was ‘rigged’ until attacking local election officials whose job it is to count ballots and promote conspiracy theories like QAnon. The belief of his supporters that the election was stolen has caused democracy expertsand about three in five Americansfearing more violence in the 2024 presidential election.
If Trump actually starts using Facebook again — which seems likely — every time he posts an election lie or veiled threat, or reinforces a dangerous QAnon theory, the company will have to decide whether that post violates the rules and what the consequences will be. are.
“People will scrutinize every message Trump makes,” said Katie Harbath, a former director of public policy at Facebook and a Republican political aide who now runs her own technology policy consultancy, Anchor Change. “Life will be hell” for platforms like Facebook if Trump comes back, she added.
Meg better fasten her seatbelt. During the Trump presidency, Facebook faced an employee revolt, a major advertiser boycott, and political backlash from Leaders of the Democratic Party because of Trump’s posts on his platforms. The past two years since Trump’s ban have been a reprieve from minimizing public expressions about Trump’s messages.
Now Trump is Facebook’s problem again.
Why Trump may return to Facebook
For a moment, it seemed that Trump would not return to mainstream social media, even given the chance. He has had access to Twitter for a month, but still hasn’t tweeted.
That could be because he has a contractual obligation to post on his company’s own social media app. Trump is required by law to post first on Truth Social before crossposting on other social media platforms (although there is a major exception for “political posts”), according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
But now Trump — who declared his candidacy for president in 2024 last month — is reportedly trying to get out of his exclusivity contract with Truth Social, and planning his return to both Twitter and Facebook. Last week, Trump’s legal team wrote to Meta requesting a meeting with company management and urging the company to lift its suspension.
While Twitter may be Trump’s platform of choice for drawing media attention and sharing his unfiltered thoughts, Facebook is by far the most powerful social media app for running a political campaign. That’s because of the sheer size of Facebook’s active user base — nearly 3 billion people — compared to more than 350 million on Twitter and 2 million on Truth Social.
“Every candidate has to be where his voters are. In terms of digital campaigns, Facebook is the largest gathering in the country,” Republican digital campaign strategist Eric Wilson, who leads the Center for Campaign Innovation, told Recode.
Facebook is also an important mechanism for Trump’s fundraising. During his suspension from Facebook, he was not allowed to run ads or raise money on the platform.
If and when Trump starts posting to Facebook and Instagram again, get ready to see more of what he’s shared on Truth Social: From April 28 through October 8, Trump shared 116 posts that are “followers and sympathizers of QAnon” amplified, and 239 posts containing “harmful election-related disinformation,” the tech watchdog group Accountable Tech. He has also made comments that advertise election fraud conspiracy theories which, according to critics, incites intimidation of election workers, such as threats of hanging, firing squads, torture and bomb explosions.
“Trump’s rhetoric has only gotten worse” since his suspension from Facebook, said Nicole Gill, president of Accountable Tech. “He has committed to the ‘big lie’ and election denial.”
Last Thursday, Trump wrote in part on Truth Social“The election was rigged and solidified, the unselected committee of political hacks and thugs refused to talk about it, and that’s how it goes.”
Under Facebook’s rules, a post like the one above claiming the 2020 election was fraudulent wouldn’t violate the rules because it’s about a past election, not a current one. But if Trump posts something like that during the 2024 election, Facebook would face heavy calls.
There are many questions about how Facebook will deal with Trump the second time around
Now that Trump is welcome to return to Facebook and Instagram, Meta’s policies around political speeches will come under renewed scrutiny.
Today, Facebook takes a nuanced approach to political expressions. While the company has rules against harmful statements such as disinformation about Covid-19 or promoting dangerous groups, the company may exception “newsworthiness”. to allow a post if it determines it is in the public interest. In 2019, Clegg announced that the company would handle speech from politicians as newsworthy content “as a rule to be seen and heard”, but backtracked on that policy in 2021 saying that politicians’ content is no longer automatically considered newsworthy — although Facebook may still make exceptions for politicians on a case-by-case basis. The bar for Facebook to actually block a politician’s speech remains high: only if the content can cause real harm that outweighs the public interest in leaving it standing.
Wilson, the Republican digital strategist, argued that Facebook should be more tolerant of political expression.
Once Facebook enforces the speech policy against one politician, Wilson says it opens the door for politicians to “let the umpires work” and ask Facebook to suspend or limit opposing political speech.
“It’s easier to say, ‘Ah, these are the criteria you used to keep Trump off the platform when he was a candidate. Then let me give you five examples of where my opponent has also crossed that line,” Wilson told Recode.
Other advisers and policy experts Recode spoke to, such as Casey Mattox, a lawyer and free speech expert at the conservative libertarian political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, argued that Facebook should hold politicians to the same standards as everyone else. There should be one set of rules for everyone, and Facebook should at least pay Lake attention to politicians, as their speech has more influence.
“I think they would be better informed if [Meta] actually said, “Look, these are the rules, and the president and everyone else is expected to abide by those same rules,” Mattox said.
One thing these consultants and experts agreed on, regardless of what they think is the right approach: Facebook should be more transparent about how it enforces its policies when it comes to high-profile politicians like Trump.
“The decision is important to Meta in the context of: Does it adhere to a set of rules that people can look at and see as neutral rules? [Rules] that depend on basic norms, that don’t differ according to political orientation,” said David Kaye, a former United Nations expert on freedom of expression and a law professor at UC Irvine. “I think that’s the key.”
Meta has been criticized by its board of trustees — an independent group of academics, human rights experts and lawyers who advise the company on substantive decisions and policies — that it needs more clarity on the rules and enforcement of political speech, especially after the Trump decision. In reply, Meta said it will reveal when it makes exceptions to its rules for newsworthy figures like Trump and has developed a “crisis policy protocol” for how it handles speech in times of heightened Democratic violence.
But Meta still makes her decisions behind closed doors. In deciding on Trump’s reinstatement, Facebook reportedly made a dedicated team of policy, communications and other business leaders, led by Clegg, the company’s top policy officer – a former British politician. The company has also consulted with “external stakeholders”, but has not disclosed who they are.
If Facebook is truly transparent about its Trump decisions, it would differentiate itself from Twitter, whose fairly new CEO and owner Elon Musk offered little explanation for bringing Trump back, other than Musk’s belief in free speech and the results of a 24- hour public poll Musk ran on his Twitter page.
“Meta can be kind of non-Musk here; they can really emphasize that freedom of speech on our platform is generally not just about a speaker’s right to say whatever they want,” said Kaye.
Regardless of how Facebook justifies Trump’s continued presence on its platform, it’s in for a wild ride. While today’s decision can be seen as the end of two years of uncertainty, in many ways it is just the beginning.