On 24 January, social media company Meta – formerly Facebook, Inc. – announced that it would soon reinstate Donald Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram with “new guardrails”. He was banned two years ago over his involvement in the 2021 US Capitol insurrection.
Facebook banned Trump a day after the January 6, 2021 uprising, when a mob of his supporters seeking to halt the certification of his election defeat to Joe Biden stormed the US Capitol in Washington. The former reality TV star had spent weeks falsely claiming that the presidential election was stolen from him. He was subsequently impeached for inciting the riot.
Meta’s president of global affairs, none other than former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, stated that the company “will be reinstating Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks”. He added that the move would come with “new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.”
Going forward, Trump – who has already declared himself a 2024 presidential candidate – could be suspended for up to two years for each violation of platform policies, Clegg said.
Overturning the ban
In a letter asking for the ban to be overturned, Trump’s lawyer Scott Gast said last week that Meta had “dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse.”
He asked for a meeting to discuss Trump’s “prompt reinstatement to the platform” of Facebook, where he had 34 million followers. Gast argued that Trump’s status as the leading contender for the Republican nomination in 2024 justified ending the ban.
However, American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero pointed out that the reversal would likely be a double-edged sword:
Like it or not, President Trump is one of the country’s leading political figures and the public has a strong interest in hearing his speech.
Indeed, some of Trump’s most offensive social media posts ended up being critical evidence in lawsuits filed against him and his administration.
The ACLU has filed more than 400 legal actions against Trump, according to Romero.
Advocacy groups such as Media Matters for America, however, vehemently oppose allowing Trump to exploit Facebook’s social networking reach. President Angelo Carusone stated:
Make no mistake — by allowing Donald Trump back on its platforms, Meta is refueling Trump’s misinformation and extremism engine.
This not only will have an impact on Instagram and Facebook users, but it also presents intensified threats to civil society and an existential threat to United States democracy as a whole.
A US congressional committee recommended in December that Trump be prosecuted for his role in the US Capitol assault.
His Twitter account, which has 88 million followers, was also blocked after the riot. This left him communicating through Truth Social, where he has fewer than five million followers.
Trump’s shock victory in 2016 was credited in part to his leverage of social media and his enormous digital reach.
Andrew Selepak, a University of Florida professor specializing in social media, suggested that Facebook doesn’t want to go to war with Trump’s supporters in Congress, who are likely to protest if he were kept off the platform. Selepak tweeted:
Trump needs the platform for fundraising and Facebook doesn’t want to be called before Congress.
A group of Democrats in Congress last month urged Meta to extend the ban to keep “dangerous and unfounded election denial content off its platform.”
New Twitter owner Elon Musk reinstated Trump’s account last November, days after Trump announced a fresh White House run. Trump has yet to post on Twitter.
Featured image via YouTube screenshot/CBC News The National
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse (AFP)