San Francisco: Meta announced on Wednesday that it was reinstating former president Donald Trump's accounts on Facebook and Instagram after a two-year suspension over his role in praising the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Nick Clegg, the company's president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post that Trump's accounts would be reinstated in the coming weeks but that he will face "heightened penalties" if he breaks the social media giant's content rules.
"The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying - the good, the bad and the ugly - so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box," Clegg wrote. "But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform."
The announcement follows a formal request from a lawyer for Trump's 2024 presidential campaign to allow him to return to the platform, arguing that a two-year ban in the aftermath of the January 6 attack has "dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse."
Meta's reinstatement, along with Twitter's decision in November to lift a permanent ban against Trump, means the former president once again has the ability to reclaim the spotlight using two of the most pivotal social media platforms in the world ahead of a presidential election in which he is a declared candidate.
Being reinstated to Facebook means Trump will be able to resume fundraising for his presidential campaign. Although Trump's primary political action committee, Save America, has been spending money on Facebook ads, his own page has been frozen.
Meta suspended Trump's accounts on January 7, 2021, following his praise and encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol in an attack that left several dead and many more injured. The company then made the suspension for two years and said it would reassess whether it was safe enough to restore his account when that period was over.
Clegg said Wednesday that Meta had to evaluate whether there were still "extraordinary circumstances" that justified the company extending his suspension. After evaluating the "current environment," including risks surrounding the 2022 midterm elections, the company determined that expanding the suspension was no longer necessary, Clegg said.
"Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out," Clegg wrote. "As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks."
Trump responded to Meta's announcement by criticizing his suspension in the first place.
"FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since 'deplatforming' your favorite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account," Trump wrote on his platform, Truth Social. "Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!"
Meta's decision will probably reignite partisan battles over how social media platforms should treat world leaders who break their rules. Ahead of Meta's decision, Democrats and some left-leaning advocacy groups pushed the company to extend Trump's suspension, arguing that he was still peddling baseless, dangerous election fraud conspiracy claims on Truth Social.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who previously urged the company to extend the ban, said on Twitter that Meta's decision will enable the president to continue to "spread his lies and demagoguery."
Facebook "caved, giving him a platform to do more harm," Schiff tweeted.
Social media platforms have faced widespread criticism from conservatives in the United States and even from other world leaders, who argued that the company went too far when it silenced a political leader on an internet platform that has become critical for public discourse. Many right-leaning leaders praised Twitter's new owner, Elon Musk, for reinstating Trump and pledging to create laxer rules on content moderation.
Historically, social media platforms have struggled to balance their desire to allow the public to view potentially newsworthy but divisive posts from world leaders with their desire to mitigate some of the harmful consequences of that rhetoric.
Clegg wrote that if Trump posts violating content, then he could be suspended again for between one month and two years, depending on the violation's severity. He added that other leaders whose accounts are reinstated following suspensions related to civil unrest would also face heightened penalties.
"More serious violations, such as sharing a link to a statement from a terrorist group in the aftermath of an attack, will merit either a 6- or 12-month restriction from creating content," the company said. "In cases where a violation is severe, we'll restrict the account for 2 years."
The company outlined its plan to address content from public figures that doesn't specifically violate the company's rules but that could lead to harmful events, such as the January 6 attack. The company said it may limit the spread of such posts, such as by not distributing them in people's feeds, removing the reshare button and stopping them from running as ads.
Most aggressive penalty
The suspension by Meta two years ago marked the most aggressive penalty the company had doled out against Trump over his four-year term, when he repeatedly spread unfounded claims about election fraud, the coronavirus pandemic and other divisive topics. While the company slapped warning labels on some of Trump's posts in the past, Meta and other tech companies did not restrict his ability to post until he praised the January 6 rioters.
As a mob forcibly entered the Capitol, Trump posted a video on Facebook and Instagram in which he said the election was "stolen" but told the protesters to go home. Later that evening, as police secured the Capitol, Trump posted a written statement on Facebook claiming that "a sacred landslide election victory" had been "viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long." He later told them to go home but to remember the day forever. Meta removed the posts for violating its rules and blocked him from posting for 24 hours. The next day, the company suspended Trump indefinitely.
Five months later, the Oversight Board, a group of human rights experts, academics and lawyers that issues binding rulings on some of Meta's content moderation decisions, upheld the suspension but said that its indefinite length was inappropriate and that the company should establish criteria for when or whether the account could be restored.
The Oversight Board on Wednesday praised the company for expanding the range of penalties it applies to world leaders' problematic posts but urged the company to be more transparent about the way it deploys them.
"Meta has made significant progress on implementing necessary and proportionate penalties across a range of violation severities," the board wrote.
Congress's January 6 committee gathered stunning details about tech companies' failures to address online extremism ahead of the Capitol riot, but the findings were ultimately not included in the committee's final report. But a group of staffers investigating social media companies warned in a memo circulated among committee members that the role of social media within "America's stormy political climate" has not changed since January 6.
Jacob Glick, who served as an investigative counsel for the committee, was critical of Meta's decision. "His online incitement nearly toppled the rule of law - and he's made it clear that he will try again in 2024," Glick said. "Meta's failure to recognize the ongoing risk of political violence posed by Trump's social media presence places us all at risk."
Still banned on YouTube
Trump is still banned on YouTube, which also kicked him off its platform in the wake of the January 6 attack. Like Facebook, the company has said that it is continuously evaluating whether Trump having an account on its site would lead to real-world harm. Spokespeople for the Google-owned video site did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
Trump has so far declined to tweet since being reinstated to Twitter, opting to use his Truth Social platform instead. Trump has said that he will not rejoin Twitter, but not all of his advisers believe that he will stick to that promise.