Is Facebook the new 'public square' and should it be able to ban Trump?
Donald Trump will remain suspended from Facebook Inc.’s networks for at least two years, and the world’s largest social media company said the former U.S. president will be reinstated in 2023 only if the risk to public safety has subsided.
“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote Friday in a blog post.
Without access to the broad reach afforded by social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, which permanently banned him in January, Trump has struggled to maintain an online presence. He shut down his blog-like “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” website this week, though he frequently sends out several press statements a day -- often targeted at fellow Republicans he believes are insufficiently loyal.
The two-year timeline for reconsidering Trump’s ability to post means he could be back on Facebook and Instagram just as the 2024 presidential election cycle is beginning. Trump has hinted that he is seriously considering a second run at the presidency in 2024.
“When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts,” Clegg said in the post.
In a statement, Trump said the decision by Facebook was “an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election.” Trump is planning to revive his rallies this summer to keep in the public eye.
Facebook announced the decision as part of a response to criticism from its independent Content Oversight Board, a group of outside lawyers, journalists and experts convened to weigh in on the most challenging content moderation questions.
In May the panel upheld Facebook’s freeze of Trump’s accounts over his posts that helped fuel a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when his supporters stormed the building to stop the counting of Electoral College votes for President Joe Biden. The board agreed with the suspension, “given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence.” But in its ruling last month, it also admonished Facebook for policies that were vague and enforcement that was often confusing and lacked transparency.
The panel chastised Facebook for trying to avoid responsibility for Trump’s “indefinite” suspension by asking the oversight board to confirm it, and instead had said Facebook should decide whether or not Trump’s account should be reinstated, prescribing a review within six months. The group also made a series of recommendations to Facebook about how it should establish content standards for public figures.
As part of its response to the Oversight Board’s recommendations, Facebook reiterated that it would suspend the accounts of government leaders for a period of time that was sufficient to protect against real-world harm and deter further misconduct.
Under its new protocols, when Facebook determines whether to restrict a political leader in the wake of violence or civil unrest, it will take into account the significance of the violation, the politician’s history on the platform, and the severity of the potential harm. The company added that rule-breaking politicians may be restricted from a month to two years. After leaders regain access to the platform, they may be subjected to tougher penalties if they break the rules again, up to and including permanent removal.
“In establishing the two year sanction for severe violations, we considered the need for it to be long enough to allow a safe period of time after the acts of incitement, to be significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr. Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future, and to be proportionate to the gravity of the violation itself,” Clegg wrote.
The company clarified how it would apply its newsworthiness exception, which in the past meant the company left up some content from high-profile figures that violated its rules because of its news value. Facebook won’t evaluate posts from political figures differently than ordinary users when judging whether to award a newsworthiness exemption. Instead, the company said it will determine “whether the public interest value of the content outweighs the potential risk of harm by leaving it up,” Clegg wrote.
Menlo Park, California-based Facebook also agreed to resist pressure from governments to silence their political opposition and shorten the deliberation process on content moderation decisions in high risk situations, such as elections and large-scale protests.
The Oversight Board said it was “encouraged” that Facebook was adopting many of its recommendations on the Trump case. In a statement, the panel said the company’s response will “contribute to greater clarity, consistency and transparency in the way the company moderates content, and promote public safety, defend human rights and respect freedom of expression.”
Facebook, whose flagship social network has 2.85 billion monthly users, has faced intense scrutiny over whether it is evenly applying its content standards among public figures in different political parties, cultures and countries. While some have called for tougher enforcement against political leaders who use social media to spread misinformation, others argue lawmakers should be the ones to set the rules governing free speech, not private technology companies.
White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki said Friday that internet platforms have a responsibility to crack down on disinformation, and expressed doubt that Trump would use Facebook any differently when his account is restored.