On Wednesday, Facebook-parent Meta announced that after two years of being suspended due to the January 6 Capitol attack, former President Donald Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram will be reinstated in the upcoming weeks.
“Our determination is that the risk [to public safety] has sufficiently receded,” Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said in a blog post. “As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks. However, we are doing so with new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.”
According to Clegg, if Trump violates platform policies again in the future, he could be suspended for up to two years.
As Trump revs up his third bid for the presidency, he regains access to powerful communication and fundraising platforms through reactivating his Facebook and Instagram accounts. These vast networks will prove advantageous in his campaign efforts as they reach millions of people with a single post.
By following the lead of Twitter, this move could drastically alter how minor online platforms manage President Trump’s accounts and set a new standard for content moderation.
Trump’s team did not promptly answer a plea for input, leaving it uncertain if he will take advantage of the chance to resume his activity on Meta platforms.
In a post on his own platform, Truth Social, Trump acknowledged Meta’s decision to reverse its suspension of his account and said “such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution.”
Former President Trump’s team was not aware of Meta’s impending decision before it occurred, according to a source familiar with the matter. As his aides and advisers were informed about this through news outlets, Meta requested for a last-minute meeting with Trump’s lawyers prior to announcing their ruling but did not disclose what conclusion they had come up with. While they were still in their meeting, Meta released the news according to a source.
After Elon Musk took over former President Trump’s account in November, Twitter reactivated it; however, Mr. Trump hasn’t returned to the platform yet and has decided to stay on Truth Social instead.
Recently, Trump’s campaign sent a letter to Meta requesting them to unblock his Facebook account. A source close to the matter shared this with CNN, thus suggesting that it is probable for him to make his return soon. Trump has always been a fan of Twitter, yet he still reaches an audience over 34 million on Facebook and 23 million on Instagram. In the past, Trump’s campaigns have acclaimed the potency of targeted advertising tools by Facebook and spent millions running their ads. With his return to these platforms looming near, it seems that Trump will once again use them for successful campaign efforts.
How Meta made the decision
Not long ago, Meta was pondering if they should reinstate Trump’s accounts with the assistance of an inner team formed solely for this purpose. This was according to a reliable source close to the discussion who informed CNN. The working group included numerous executives from different parts of the company. Comprised of representatives from the company’s public policy, communications, content policy and safety & integrity teams was a group being steered by former UK Deputy Prime Minister Clegg.
In June 2021, the company declared that it would seek professional opinion to assess whether risks to public safety had diminished by January 2023 in order to decide upon the former president’s account.
“If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded,” Clegg, then-vice president of global affairs at Meta, said in a statement at the time.
Meta’s updated policy
Clegg said in his Wednesday post that the company believes “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.” But, he said, “that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.”
Following his past transgressions, Clegg declared that Trump will now experience “more severe sanctions for recidivist breaches”. He additionally revealed that similar actions would be taken against other influential figures whose accounts are restored after being suspended due to civil unrest.
In his interview with Axios this week, Clegg firmly stated that they do not “want [Trump] to use our services to discredit the 2024 election, as he did on January 6 regarding the 2020 election.” He made it unequivocally clear that any return of Trump would be contingent upon avoiding such behavior.
“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,” Clegg said. While Clegg once suggested that Donald Trump’s accounts could be permanently removed if future violations were committed, it appears this potential consequence is now off the table.
To ensure the safety of its users and prevent a similar incident to January 6th, Meta may limit distribution of posts which don’t violate their rules yet can contribute to certain risks. This includes content related or delegitimizing elections as well as QAnon-related material according to Clegg. For instance, the company could opt to remove the reshare button or keep Trump’s posts viewable on his page but not visible in users’ feeds, even for those who are subscribed to him. Additionally, persistent breach of rules may result in sanctions that limit access to advertising tools provided by the platform.
Despite the potential harm it could cause, if Trump again posts something that would be in violation of Meta’s rules but is deemed important to public knowledge according to their newsworthiness policy, they may limit its distribution while still leaving it visible on his page.