Facebook has lifted the ban on former President Donald Trump

Meta is letting its most controversial user — former President Donald Trump — return to Facebook and Instagram.

On January 6, 2021, Facebook and Instagram, along with Twitter, YouTube and Snap, suspended Trump after the former president praised rioters. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained at the time that suspending Trump “indefinitely” was inappropriate. used Facebook to incite “violent insurrection” against American democracy.

Two years later, Meta said Trump no longer poses an immediate risk to public safety. The company’s decision follows Twitter’s call last month to lift a permanent ban on Trump. Nearly two weeks after Meta made its initial announcement that it would bring back Trump, its accounts on Facebook and Instagram were fully reinstated on Thursday. As of February 9, Trump has yet to post anything on any of the apps, preferring instead to continue posting on his established social media app, Truth Social.

“People should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg wrote in a company blog post explaining the decision to allow Trump on Facebook and Instagram. “But that doesn’t mean there’s no limit to what people can say on our platform.”

In the post, Clegg wrote that Meta has determined the risk to public safety has been “substantially reduced,” but Meta will add new fences to Trump’s future posts if they contribute to posts such as “the type of risk that materialized on Jan. 6.” Validating an election or endorsing QAnon. The new penalties include limiting the reach of Trump’s posts on Meta Facebook’s feed, limiting access to advertising tools and removing the reshare button from offending posts. If Trump continues to violate Facebook’s rules, the company can suspend him again for one month to two years.

It’s true that the United States is no longer in the midst of a transition of power between presidents, nor is it under a nationwide pandemic lockdown that caused political frustration.

But one thing is that there is no Trump himself has changed. The former president did not reject any of his election-denying views that the rioters said motivated their violence on January 6. He continues to spread false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” to attack local election workers whose job it is to count ballots, and to promote conspiracy theories like QAnon. His supporters’ belief that the election was rigged has democracy experts and three in five Americans fearing more violence during the 2024 presidential election.

If Trump actually starts using Facebook again — which seems likely — every time he posts election falsehoods or veils threats, or expands on a dangerous QAnon theory, the company will have to decide whether the post violates its rules and what the consequences will be. .

“People will scrutinize every Trump post,” said Katie Harbath, a former director of public policy at Facebook and a Republican political operative who now runs her own technology policy consulting firm, Anchor Change. “Life will become hell” for platforms like Facebook if Trump returns, he added.

The meta was well buckled up. During Trump’s presidency, Facebook faced an employee revolt, a major advertiser boycott and political backlash from Democratic Party leaders over Trump’s posts on its platform. Since Trump’s ban, there has been a remedy to reduce public exposure to Trump’s posts in the past two years.

Now again the problem of Facebook is Trump.

Why Trump might actually return to Facebook

For a while, it seemed Trump wouldn’t return to mainstream social media even if he had the chance. He had access to Twitter for a month but had not tweeted yet.

This may be because he has a contractual obligation to post on his company’s own social media app According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Trump is legally required to post on Truth Social first before cross-posting to other social media platforms (although there is a big exception for “political messaging”).

But now Trump — who last month announced his candidacy for president in 2024 — is looking to get out of his exclusivity deal with Truth Social, and both Twitter and Facebook are planning his return. Last week, Trump’s legal team wrote a letter to Meta requesting a meeting with company leadership and urging the company to lift its suspension.

While Twitter may be Trump’s preferred platform for garnering media attention and sharing his unvarnished thoughts, Facebook is the most powerful social media app for running political campaigns. That’s because of the sheer size of Facebook’s active user base — about 3 billion people — compared to more than 350 million on Twitter and 2 million on Truth Social.

“Any candidate needs their voters to be there. As far as digital campaigns are concerned, Facebook is the largest gathering place in the country,” Republican digital campaign strategist Eric Wilson, who leads the Campaign Innovation Center, told Recode.

Facebook is also a key tool for Trump’s fundraising. During his Facebook suspension, he was not allowed to run ads or collect funds on the platform.

If and when Trump starts posting on Facebook and Instagram again, prepare to see more of what he’s sharing on Truth Social: From April 28 to October 8, Trump shared 116 posts expanding his “followers and sympathizers of QAnon.” and 239 posts of “malicious election-related malpractice,” according to tech watchdog group Accountable Tech. He also made comments promoting election fraud conspiracy theories that critics say encouraged harassment of election workers, such as hangings, firing squads, torture and bomb threats.

Nicole Gill, president of Accountable Tech, said “Trump’s rhetoric has gotten worse” since being suspended from Facebook. “He committed himself to ‘big lies’ and election denial.”

Last Thursday, Trump wrote on Truth Social, in part, “The election was rigged and stolen, an unelected committee of political hacks and thugs refused to discuss it and so it went.”

According to Facebook’s rules, a claim like the one above that the 2020 election was fraudulent won’t violate its rules because it’s referring to a previous election, not the current one. But if Trump posts something like this during the 2024 election, Facebook will face a tough call.

There are questions about how Facebook will handle Trump the second time around

Now that Trump has been welcomed back to Facebook and Instagram, Meta’s policies around political speech are set to attract renewed scrutiny.

Today, Facebook deals with political discourse in a nuanced way. While the company has rules against harmful speech, such as misinformation about COVID-19 health or the promotion of dangerous groups, the company can issue a “newsworthiness” exception to allow a post if it determines it is in the public interest. In 2019, Clegg announced that the company would consider politicians’ statements as newsworthy content “that, as a general rule, should be seen and heard,” but in 2021 reverted to the policy that politicians’ content would no longer be automatically presumed to be newsworthy — though Facebook can still make exceptions for politicians on a case-by-case basis. The hurdle for Facebook to block a politician’s speech is high: only if the content could cause real-world harm that outweighs the public’s interest in giving it up.

Wilson, the Republican digital strategist, argued that Facebook should be allowed more with political speech.

Once Facebook enforces a speech policy against a politician, Wilson said that opens the door for politicians to “act the ref” and ask Facebook to suspend or limit opposing political speech.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, well, that’s the criteria you used to keep Trump off the platform when he was a candidate. Then I give you five examples where my opponent crossed that line,'” Wilson told Recode.

Other consultants and policy experts Recode spoke with, such as Casey Mattox, an attorney and free speech expert at the conservative libertarian political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, argued that Facebook should hold politicians to the same standards as everyone else. There should be a set of rules for everyone and if anything, Facebook should be paid more Attention to politicians, as their speech has more impact.

“I think they would be better off on the field [Meta] Basically saying, ‘Look, these are the rules, and the president and everyone else is expected to follow those same rules,'” Mattox said.

These consultants and experts agreed on one thing, regardless of what they think is the right approach: Facebook should be more transparent about how it applies its policies to high-profile politicians like Trump.

“In this context where the decision is important to the meta, is it obeying a rule that people can see and see as a neutral rule? [Rules] That rests on fundamental values ​​that don’t change according to political orientation?,” said David Kaye, former UN expert on freedom of expression and law professor at UC Irvine. “I think that’s the key.”

Meta has been criticized by its oversight board — an independent group of academics, human rights experts and lawyers who advise the company on content decisions and policies — that it needs to be clearer about its rules and enforcement of political speech, particularly Trump’s decision. In response, Meta said it would disclose when it makes exceptions to its rules for newsworthy figures like Trump and develop a “crisis policy protocol” for how it handles speech during Democratic violence.

But Meta still makes his decisions behind closed doors. To decide on Trump’s reinstatement, Facebook has reportedly created a special team of policy, communications and other business executives, led by the company’s top policy officer — a former British politician — Clegg. The company also consulted with “external stakeholders” but did not share who they were.

If Facebook is truly transparent about its decision on Trump, it will set itself apart from Twitter, whose fairly new CEO and owner Elon Musk has offered little explanation for bringing back Trump other than Musk’s faith in free speech and 24-hour public poll results. Kasturi ran to her Twitter page.

“Meta can be like non-mask here; They can really emphasize that freedom of speech on our platform is generally not just about a speaker’s right to say whatever they want,” Kaye said.

Regardless of how Facebook justifies Trump’s continued presence on its platform, it’s in for a wild ride. While today’s decision may be seen as the end of two years of uncertainty, in many ways it is just the beginning.

Update, February 9, 4 pm ET: This story was originally published on Jan. 25 and has been updated to include news that Facebook and Instagram have reinstated Trump’s accounts.