Facebook parent company Meta is letting a two-year ban on Donald Trump, imposed after the then-president’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, expire.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Former President Donald Trump can return to Facebook. The social media company says in the coming weeks it will lift a ban it put in place more than two years ago after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. But will Trump come back, especially now that the social media landscape looks very different? NPR’s Shannon Bond is covering the story. Hi, Shannon.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Remind us how Facebook made its decision in 2021 to suspend Trump’s account.
BOND: Yeah, I mean, it happened just a day after the Capitol riot. They indefinitely suspended Trump because at the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said there was just too much risk of violence. Trump had posted praising the rioters. And not just Facebook but also Twitter and YouTube saw this as incitement, and he was kicked off all of these major platforms. And those decisions were just incredibly controversial. And in fact, for Facebook, it was so controversial, the company asked its then-newly formed oversight board to weigh in. It’s a – that’s a group of experts in law and human rights that the company asks for feedback from on its tough content decisions. The board said that Facebook was justified in suspending Trump, but it took issue with this idea of an indefinite ban. It said they needed to be more specific. So Facebook came back a little bit later and said, OK, it’s a two-year ban. We’ll take a look and then decide if it’s safe to let him back. And now, those two years are up.
SHAPIRO: So two years later, what’s changed? How is the company justifying its decision to let him back on?
BOND: Well, Meta says the risk to public safety has sufficiently receded. It didn’t give a lot more explanation of how it reached that conclusion. But it does say it’s going to put new guardrails in place. So if Trump breaks the rules again, you know, he could be suspended again for up to another two years. It says it could also restrict his posts even if they don’t outright break the rules. So if he starts posting QAnon conspiracy theories, if he questions an upcoming election, Facebook could make it harder to see those posts unless you go directly to Trump’s page.
SHAPIRO: Trump has started his own social media site, Truth Social. Does it look like he’ll actually return to Facebook?
BOND: Yeah. I mean, that’s a good question. And just now he took – he’s taking a victory lap on Truth Social. You know, he says, you know, a sitting president should never be banned. He claims that banning him is why Facebook has lost a ton of market value. But look, the Trump campaign had petitioned Facebook to let him back on, but we don’t know if he’s going to use it again. You know, he was allowed back onto Twitter in November, but he has not been posting there. So far, he’s only been using Truth Social. He actually has an agreement to post there first. But of course, Ari, his reach there is much lower – right? – than it would be on Twitter or Facebook. So, you know, we’ll have to see if it’s tempting to come back. And also, then there’s this question of – if he does start posting again, how long will he last? You know, he has been posting lots of false claims about the 2020 election on Truth Social. He’s been amplifying QAnon conspiracies. You know, and those are the type of posts that could trigger these guardrails Facebook is talking about.
SHAPIRO: Social media has changed so much in the last couple of years. If he does get back on these platforms, is he going to have the same reach he once had?
BOND: I mean, that’s a real question. You know, Facebook does look weaker at this point than it did when it banned him. It has lost users and revenue for the first time. Twitter is in chaos under Elon Musk. You know, all of these smaller upstart sites, not just Truth Social but Parler, GETTR, Gab, you know, they have been fueled by, you know, appeals to conservatives who feel they are censored by big tech. But it’s not quite clear if it’s going be easy for Trump to stay away. You know, Facebook played a really important fundraising role for him. That’s going to be important as he runs for president again in 2024. But I think this all, Ari, is just a reminder of how much power these big tech companies have to decide who gets a voice online.
SHAPIRO: NPR’s Shannon Bond. Thank you.
BOND: Thank you.
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