Donald Trump is too dangerous to be allowed on Facebook right now, the social media company has decided. Instead, the former US president will have to wait until at least January 7, 2023 to make his triumphant return to the site, just giving him time to reconnect for the next presidential race.
Responding to a mandate from a semi-independent oversight committee that is reviewing its content moderation decisions, Facebook said Trump would be eligible to resume posting on Facebook and Instagram two years after the riots on the U.S. Capitol. he had initially suspended for cheering. That timing means he could find his megaphone on social media in time for the 2024 presidential campaign – provided the company determines he is no longer a threat by then.
“At the end of this period, we will turn to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has diminished,” wrote Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs for Facebook. a post announcing the decision . “We will assess external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assemblies and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a defined period of time and continue to reassess until that risk subsides. “
In the event that the ban is lifted, added Clegg, “there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations … up to and including permanent removal.”
The social media company also announced that it has put in place new moderation policies “to be applied in exceptional cases like this”, suggesting that the verdict in this case could serve as a model for future decisions.
As with previous steps in the company’s long and arduous process of deciding what to do with Trump’s account, the move drew much harsh criticism from critics, including from the former president himself. In an emailed statement released Friday afternoon, Trump called the move an insult to his supporters, saying Facebook “shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censorship” and America “shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censorship”. can no longer take this abuse ”, while repeating the false claim that the 2020 elections were rigged.
Facebook’s announcement comes just under a month after the company’s Supervisory Board – a cohort of 20 academics, lawyers, journalists and advocates tasked with reviewing and publishing what Facebook says are binding decisions on some of his more difficult content moderation decisions – said the suspension Trump initially received was inconsistent with “the rules that apply to other users.”
“It was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indefinite sentence with no standard of indefinite suspension,” the board said. said at the time . “Facebook’s normal penalties include removing infringing content, imposing a time-limited ineligibility period, or permanently deactivating the page and account.”
It was this interim option – a “time-limited suspension period” – that Facebook chose, succeeding so well within the six-month deadline the board gave the company.
After years of debate over how and when social media platforms should verify posts, remove content, and ban users, including heads of state, Trump’s two-year ban is a signal from Facebook that the The company is upholding its original January decision to silence Trump for his role in the Capitol riots.
But it is also another example of the reluctance of the company to make a permanent decision in the matter. After sending its initial ban back to the Supervisory Board for confirmation or veto, Facebook has again hedged its bets, pushing the box back at a time when it may no longer be so loaded.
It is a non-resolution that has left the biggest critics of the company dissatisfied.
“While many people will breathe a sigh of relief today that Facebook banned Donald Trump for another two years, this move only underscores Facebook’s enormous unchecked power and its repeated failure to control its platform. form, ”wrote Real Facebook. Oversight Board, a watchdog group that tends to criticize Facebook’s moderation policies. “Trump and his allies have used Facebook to incite an insurgency and an attempted coup by the United States government. The punishment: back on Facebook just in time for Trump 2024.
The choice comes down to “a two-year waiting period,” the group added on Twitter .
Shireen Mitchell – a member of the group and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women – told The Times that she believes Facebook’s reluctance to ban Trump permanently is rooted in the platform’s advertising-based business model.
“They are still worried about their profit margins,” she said. “Part of that result is money, and they probably could have made a lot of money with Trump and the commercials.”
It also helps explain the timeline created by Facebook, Mitchell continued.
“Why not after 2024? Why wait for the year just before? she asked. “Because to me, they are not being honest about the profit model they are enjoying. With any of the political ads… I’m 100% sure that one of the most important times this happens is during the presidential elections. “
Other organizations were just as critical. Madihha Ahussain, senior policy adviser at civil rights nonprofit Muslim Advocates, wrote that by allowing Trump to eventually return to the platform, Facebook executives “have chosen a path that guarantees more hatred and misinformation on his part on Facebook in the run-up to the next presidential election.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also expressed skepticism that Trump would use Facebook more responsibly in two years, saying it “seems unlikely the zebra will change color.” CNN’s Brian Stelter reported .
But as has often been the case in debates about social media moderation, criticism that Facebook is not doing enough has been accompanied by equally harsh criticism that the company is doing too much.
“Banning a major political voice from one of the world’s largest communications platforms for several years is worrying,” said Nora Pelizzari, communications director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. “This is always going to be of concern no matter who the political leader [is], no matter what the content of their speech.
But a plus, she said, is that the ban would have to expire in time for Trump to come back online for a hypothetical 2024 presidential bid: “I think [it] It’s a good thing that as a as a candidate, he can share his point of view with all those who both agree and disagree with him.
And the fact that Facebook has now put in place a concrete policy on how it will handle such cases in the future is “great news,” she added, as transparent guidelines help users anticipate. what they can and cannot get away with on a platform.
Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) Also criticized Facebook’s move on free speech grounds, writing in a statement that “Unless Congress takes action, Big Tech will continue to censor Americans” , while pushing for a bill that would reclassify social media platforms as “common carriers” that must give all users more or less equal access .
Facebook’s move comes a day after it was announced that the company would revise a controversial policy that gave politicians special exemptions from certain site moderation policies, in line with what executives like Trump have to say is inherently newsworthy.
“We place our media value allocation on a small number of posts on our platform,” Clegg said in his Friday statement announcing Trump’s two-year ban. “Going forward, we’ll start publishing the rare instances when we apply it. … When we assess content from a news perspective, we will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by someone else. Instead, we’ll just apply our newsworthiness balancing test in the same way to all content. “
Trump has been relatively calm in his post-presidency, with occasional appearances at Mar-a-Lago replacing what was once a prominent presence on Facebook and Twitter – platforms which, alongside many other websites, gave him the boot. On Wednesday, he shut down the blog “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” it had set up as a sort of individual alternative to Twitter; his senior assistant Jason Miller later said the move was a precursor for Trump to join another social network.
It’s now clear that Facebook, at least, won’t be that network – at least not anytime soon.