Meta Platforms Inc. will reinstate former US President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following a two-year suspension for violating the social networks’ rules.
The company’s decision to withdraw the ban, announced Wednesday, means Trump can soon reach tens of millions of followers across the two services as he makes another bid for the White House. His accounts will be subject to “guardrails,” the company said, and specific penalties for future rule-breaking.
“As a general rule, we don’t want to get in the way of open, public and democratic debate on Meta’s platforms — especially in the context of elections in democratic societies like the United States,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said in a blog post.
Trump’s accounts were shut down on Jan. 6, 2021, after the company deemed that some of his posts were encouraging his supporters to violently riot at the US Capitol to try and stop Congress from confirming the results of the presidential election, which Joe Biden won. The temporary ban was changed to an “indefinite” suspension the following day.
“In light of his violations, he now also faces heightened penalties for repeat offenses – penalties which will apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest under our updated protocol,” Clegg said in the post. “In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation.”
Meta said it may decrease the reach of some Trump posts if they aim to delegitimize the upcoming election or relate to the conspiracy group QAnon. “This step would mean that content would remain visible on Mr. Trump’s account but would not be distributed in people’s feeds, even if they follow Mr. Trump,” the company’s blog post reads.
Meta sought feedback from an Oversight Board — a group of outside lawyers, journalists and policy experts paid by Meta. With its input, the company decided that the suspension would last for at least two years. Clegg was the executive responsible for deciding whether to reinstate his account, taking heat off of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer.
As a general rule, we don’t want to get in the way of open debate on our platforms, esp in context of democratic elections. People should be able to hear what politicians are saying – good, bad & ugly – to make informed choices at the ballot box. 1/4
— Nick Clegg (@nickclegg) January 25, 2023
Trump, who announced last November he’s running again for president in 2024 and used Facebook extensively during his last two campaigns, had asked Zuckerberg and other company officials to reinstate his access, saying that keeping him off the platform is interfering with the political process.
The former president also said in a Jan. 5 post on Truth Social, his own social-media platform, that Meta “has been doing very poorly” and “become very boring” since suspending him. He also said removing him and changing the company’s name to Meta from Facebook “will go down in the Business Hall of Fame for two of the worst decisions in Business History!”
Trump also had access to his Twitter account restored in November after new owner Elon Musk reversed a ban. Trump has yet to post, saying he’ll get his message out on Truth Social. He did just that following Meta’s announcement Wednesday, acknowledging the decision but criticizing the company’s actions.
“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. “Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution! THANK YOU TO TRUTH SOCIAL FOR DOING SUCH AN INCREDIBLE JOB. YOUR GROWTH IS OUTSTANDING, AND FUTURE UNLIMITED!!!”
But Trump’s reach on Truth Social is dwarfed by what he had with Facebook and Twitter. He has 4.8 million followers on Truth Social, compared with 87.7 million on his old Twitter account and 34 million on his former official Facebook page.
Lawmakers, including Democratic US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and US Representative Adam Schiff of California, sent a letter to Clegg last month urging Meta to continue Trump’s suspension and to “maintain its commitment to keeping dangerous election denial content off its platform.”
The lawmakers said Trump continues to post “harmful election content” and amplify QAnon sites on Truth Social that would likely violate Meta’s policies. “We have every reason to believe he would bring similar conspiratorial rhetoric back to Facebook, if given the chance,” they said in the letter.
The letter noted that Trump has posted false claims about election rigging in Arizona and other states in the midterms. The former president shared Truth Social posts earlier this month repeating debunked conspiracies about Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman and others “stuffing the ballot boxes” in 2020.
Freeman and her daughter gave emotional testimony last year to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection about how they received death threats and didn’t want to venture out in public because of Trump’s baseless attacks on them.
The former president has continued to advertise and raise money on Facebook through his Save America leadership political action committee. Last year, Save America placed almost 10,000 ads on Facebook for almost $655,000, according to AdImpact. –BLOOMBERG