Two years after the social platform banned him from its service in the wake of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, the company says that he can now return.
“The suspension was an extraordinary decision taken in extraordinary circumstances, Meta policy chief Nick Clegg wrote in a blog post. “The normal state of affairs is that the public should be able to hear from a former President of the United States, and a declared candidate for that office again, on our platforms. Now that the time period of the suspension has elapsed, the question is not whether we choose to reinstate Mr. Trump’s accounts, but whether there remain such extraordinary circumstances that extending the suspension beyond the original two-year period is justified.“
Clegg adds that the risk has receded, though he adds that the company is putting new “guardrails” in place in case that changes. Those guardrails will include heightened penalties in the event he encourages violence again, including automatic suspensions. For content that is not overtly violent, but delegitimizes elections, Facebook says it may stop the reach of those posts, or revoke some advertising tools for the account.
“We know that any decision we make on this issue will be fiercely criticized,” Clegg added. “Reasonable people will disagree over whether it is the right decision. But a decision had to be made, so we have tried to make it as best we can in a way that is consistent with our values and the process we established in response to the Oversight Board’s guidance.”
Trump was banned from Facebook “indefinitely” on Jan. 7, with the company’s Oversight Board deciding in May that “given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” however, the board added that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.”
In response, Facebook settled on a two year ban the following month. Executive Nick Clegg wrote at the time that the company would reevaluate the decision in 2023.
“At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest,” Clegg wrote. “If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.”
Trump’s return to Facebook comes after his account was reinstated at Twitter by owner Elon Musk. Musk restored the account after he conducted an online poll.
While Trump is back on the social platforms, he may be limited in what he can do there. He now has a social platform of his, Truth Social (modeled after Twitter, his preferred platform), and his agreement with the company says that he has to post exclusively on that platform first, and can only post on other platforms hours later.
And if he does post on Facebook or Instagram, whether or not the company takes further action against him, Clegg seemed aware in his blog post that it is expecting to face tough public criticism.
“We are highlighting these rules today because we anticipate that should Mr. Trump choose to resume activity on our platforms, many people will call for us to take action against his account and the content he posts, while many others will be upset if he is suspended again, or if some of his content is not distributed on our platforms,” he wrote. “We want to be as clear as possible now about our policies, so that even in those instances where people will disagree with us, they still understand the rationale for our responses.”