Two years after the company formerly known as Facebook suspended then-president Donald Trump's account, it's bringing him back. Meta announced its decision to restore former president Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts on Wednesday, adding that it would do so in "the coming weeks."
The company was expected to weigh in sometime this month on Trump's fate. Meta's semi-independent external policy committee the Oversight Board declined to decide the case itself when given the chance two years ago, but it did push the company to set a timeframe for Trump's suspension. That two-year suspension period expired this month.
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
In tweets and a post on Meta's blog, Facebook Global Affairs president Nick Clegg said that Meta was done evaluating if the "serious risk to public safety" that Trump posed two years ago remains.
"Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out," Clegg said. "As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks."
Clegg also cited new guardrails that will keep Trump operating within the rules, namely "heightened penalties for repeat offenses." Meta issued updated rules this month that apply to public figures stoking civil unrest and under those guidelines Trump would be suspended for anywhere from a month to two more years if he offends again.
Back in 2021, the Oversight Board criticized Meta for Trump's ambiguous, open-ended punishment, which it issued after the former president incited violence during the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Twitter was less equivocal at the time, issuing Trump a lifetime ban from its services.
Twitter's own decision seemed permanent, but two years later SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk purchased the social company, reversing that decision and many other suspensions that the company made in the course of enforcing its guidelines against hate and harassment.
While Trump's path to a mainstream social media return is now cleared, the former president might be in his own way. According to SEC filings, Trump remains under an exclusivity agreement with his own social media company Truth Social that requires he post content there six hours before sharing it to other platforms. Beyond that, Trump is "generally obligated" to stick with Truth Social rather than mainstream social networks like Twitter and Facebook, though the contract expires in June and he's apparently eager to be done with it.
Meta's Oversight Board noted that it was made aware of the company's decision yesterday and while it had no role in dictating the outcome, it approved of the company's process.
"Today’s decision by Meta is a pivotal moment in the debate over the best way to handle harmful content posted by politicians on social media," the Oversight Board wrote in a blog post.
"As Meta wrote, there are arguments on both sides of the debate over where to draw the line on what content should be allowed online. Independent oversight of decisions related to speech on social media platforms is why the Board was set up — to ensure that companies act in a transparent and accountable manner."
This story is developing...