In the grand scale of things, this particular change in social platform policy, or in general ways to handling heated or incendiary usage by international leaders, is not particularly significant. However, it is significant in terms of symbolic, and perhaps iconic gestures, and may at the very least have profound effects on US politics.
After being barred from both platforms due to his posts made around the time of the event at the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, former US President Donald Trump has now been given permission to rejoin Facebook and Instagram, according to a recent announcement from Meta.
- According to Meta:
“We acted under really exceptional and extreme conditions two years ago. After then-US President Donald Trump praised those who engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, we suspended his Facebook and Instagram accounts forever. The Oversight Board, a professional group created to serve as an impartial check and balance on our decision-making, was then referred that conclusion.
In response, the Oversight Board demanded that Meta put more precise guidelines in place regarding the criteria used to make such decisions and the duration of any ensuing suspensions. Based on this, Meta declared that the suspension will last for two years and then be reviewed to determine the likelihood of restoration. Trump has now been reinstated in Meta’s apps as a result of that judgement.
which, according to reports, the Trump campaign has been promoting lately.
Trump’s legal team urged in a letter to Meta last week that Trump be permitted to return to its platforms in order to offer him an equal voice in politics as he prepares for the 2024 presidential campaign. Uncertain if that had any impact on Meta’s choice, but with the gates now open, Trump and company will have access to millions of US voters via his Facebook page and through paid advertisements.
This is important in and of itself. As previously mentioned, it’s not yet obvious whether the process has led Meta to set more firm guidelines for managing such circumstances in the future or what sanctions it will enact as a result of such activities.
In its reaction to Meta’s announcement, the Oversight Board of Meta specifically referred to the following detail:
- The Board is pleased that Meta acted on its advice to carry out an evaluation of the existing security environment and to implement a crisis policy protocol in order to enhance Meta’s reaction to crises. The Board nevertheless requests more information from Meta in order to review how its decision and recommendations in this case have been implemented. Meta is also urged to define the different levels of severity associated with public figure violations during civil unrest and to explain how this policy relates to the crisis policy protocol.
- The Board points out that Meta has revised its strategy for dealing with such circumstances in a new policy overview for handling posts by public figures during times of tumult, and that Trump in particular will now also be subject to “heightened penalties for recurring infractions.”
However, the guidelines for its judgements regarding what constitutes public risk are still not entirely apparent. Which leaves those choices up to Meta management, which, in some circumstances, could be seen as a form of political censorship.
In the ideal scenario, Meta does not wish that:
“Generally speaking, we don’t want to obstruct free, open, and democratic discussion of Meta’s platforms, especially when it comes to elections in democracies like the United States. So that they can cast an informed vote at the polls, the public should be allowed to hear what their leaders are saying, good, bad, and ugly. However, it does not imply that there are no restrictions on what users can say on our site. We only take action when there is a demonstrable possibility of harm in the real world, which is a very high bar for Meta to enter into public discourse.
- The “default” setting, according to Meta, is to allow people to speak even when what they have to say is “distasteful or factually incorrect.”
- Meta would prefer that such choices be made by an all-encompassing regulatory agency that supervises all internet platforms, but given the potential abuses of such a process and the varied approaches to such in different countries, that’s a challenging idea that might never materialise.
- As a result, Meta is left to establish its own guidelines for what qualifies as probable harm in this situation, which it won’t always do well.
There is truly no other choice, and Meta can only make decisions in these circumstances as they come up.
Will Trump therefore return to Facebook?
Elon Musk restored Trump’s previously suspended Twitter account in November, but he hasn’t tweeted since. This is partially due to Trump’s ownership of Truth Social and his dedication to making that alternative platform successful.
Truth Social, Trump’s own social media programme, has received over $1 billion from a number of Trump’s most ardent backers and followers, according to Trump Media & Technology Group. One important condition of that strategy is that Trump has promised to only publish the Truth, even if his other social media accounts are restored. Trump can avoid breaking this rule by, for example, publishing to Twitter or Facebook after posting to Truth, but in essence, he is at least partially committed to making Truth Social his emphasis.
But he won’t get the same level of resonance or reach without Facebook.
Facebook advertising were a crucial component of Trump’s prior campaigning attempts, and he has more than 34 million followers on the social media platform. In fact, Trump’s team spent more than $20 million on Facebook ads in 2019 alone. Facebook is also a key venue for the promotion of Trump’s agenda, even though tweets have increasingly been his preferred method of communication with his audience.
Given that they have been granted access to the app once again, you can bet that Trump’s team is already planning their next round of Facebook advertisements.
Is that advantageous?
People should be entitled to make their own judgements, as Meta points out, but the deceptive and specific Facebook ad strategies used in the past by Trump’s campaign do pose further concerns.
However, it is a very different discussion, and in essence, given the circumstances, it makes sense for Meta to restore Trump’s account and allow him access to its apps.