“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,” Clegg wrote. “But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.”
The announcement follows a formal request from a lawyer for Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign to allow him to return to the platform, arguing that a two-year ban in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack has “dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse.”
Meta’s reinstatement — along with Twitter’s decision in November to lift a permanent ban against Trump — means the former president once again has the ability to reclaim the spotlight using two of the most pivotal social media platforms in the world ahead of a presidential election in which he is a declared candidate.
Being reinstated to Facebook means Trump will be able to resume fundraising for his presidential campaign. While his primary political action committee, Save America, has been spending money on Facebook ads, Trump’s own page has been frozen.
Meta suspended Trump’s accounts on Jan. 7, 2021, following his praise and encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol in an attack that left several dead and many more injured. The company then shortened the suspension to two years and said that when that period was over, it would reassess whether it was safe enough to restore his account.
Meta’s decision is likely to reignite partisan battles over how social media platforms should treat world leaders who break their rules. Ahead of Meta’s decision, Democrats and some left-leaning advocacy groups pushed the company to extend Trump’s suspension, arguing he was still peddling dangerous election fraud conspiracies on his alternative platform Truth Social.
But social media platforms also faced widespread criticism from conservatives in the United States and even other world leaders, who argued the company went too far when it silenced a political leader on an internet platform that has become critical for public discourse. Many right-leaning leaders praised Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk for reinstating Trump and pledging to create laxer rules on content moderation.
Historically, social media platforms have struggled to balance their desire to allow the public to view potentially newsworthy but divisive posts from world leaders with their desire to mitigate some of the harmful consequences of that rhetoric.
The suspension by Meta two years ago marked the most aggressive penalty the company had doled out against Trump over his four-year term when he repeatedly spread unfounded claims about election fraud, the covid-19 pandemic and other divisive topics. While the company slapped warning labels on some of Trump’s posts in the past, Meta and other tech companies didn’t restrict his ability to post until he praised the Jan. 6 rioters.
As a mob forcibly entered the Capitol, Trump posted a video on Facebook and Instagram in which he said the election was “stolen” but told the protesters to go home. Later that evening, as police secured the Capitol, Trump posted a written statement on Facebook claiming that “a sacred landslide election victory” had been “viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long.” He later told them to go home but to remember the day forever. Meta removed the posts for violating its rules and blocked him from posting for 24 hours. The next day, the company suspended Trump indefinitely.
Five months later, the Oversight Board, a group of human rights experts, academics and lawyers that issues binding rulings on some of Meta’s content moderation decisions, upheld the suspension but its indefinite length was in appropriate and said the company should establish criteria for when or whether the account could be restored.
Inside Facebook, anger, regret over missed warning signs
The following month, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said in a statement at the time that the company would give Trump a two-year suspension that would be lifted only if “the risk to public safety has receded.”
Clegg also said then that after the two-year period, the company would turn to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety had receded, including taking into account instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other indicators of civil unrest.
Clegg also said that when Trump’s suspension is “eventually” lifted, the former president would face “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions,” including up to permanent removal of his pages and accounts if he continues to violate the platform’s rules.
Trump has, so far, declined to Tweet since being reinstated to Twitter, opting to use his Truth Social platform instead. Trump has said he wouldn’t rejoin Twitter but not all of his advisers believe he will stick to that promise.