Facebook said it will suspend former U.S. president Donald Trump’s accounts — including Instagram — for two years following its finding that he stoked violence ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.
“At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post Friday. “We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest.”
On Facebook, Trump’s suspension has meant that his account is essentially in “Facebook jail,” which is a term that users use to describe when the social network bans people from posting or accessing their accounts. Others can still read and comment on Trump’s past posts, but he and other account handlers are unable to post new material.
The company has also suspended his account on Instagram, which Facebook owns.
Twitter, by contrast, has permanently banned Trump from its service and there is no trace of his account there.
Facebook said it will heighten penalties for public figures during times of civil unrest and violence. In a colour-coded chart on its blog post Friday, it said those who violate its policies during this time can be restricted from posting for anywhere between a month (yellow) and two years (red). Future violations, it said, will be met with “heightened penalties, up to and including permanent removal.”
Facebook also plans to end a contentious policy championed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg that automatically exempted politicians from rules that banned hate speech and abuse. The company has said it has never applied this policy to Trump.
Ban would end in time for 2024 election, critic says
In a press release, Trump called Facebook’s decision “an insult.”
“They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our Country can’t take this abuse anymore!” the press release stated.
A group calling itself the Real Facebook Oversight Board, which is critical of Facebook and its oversight panel, said in a statement Friday that the two-year ban brings Trump back just in time for the 2024 U.S. presidential election and shows “no real strategy to address authoritarian leaders and extremist content, and no intention of taking serious action against disinformation and hate speech.”
Jim Steyer, the founder and CEO of Common Sense Media and a member of the Real Oversight Board, said the ban should have been made permanent to send a clear message about protecting U.S. democracy.
“It’s pretty straightforward. Donald Trump incited an insurrection, and the biggest attack on the Capitol in 150 years that left people dead and injured. And Facebook still doesn’t have the courage to ban him permanently from the platform,” he said.
The social media giant said on Friday that while it will still apply this “newsworthiness” exemption to certain posts it deems to be in the public interest even if they violate Facebook rules, it will no longer treat material posted by politicians any differently from that posted by anyone else. In addition, Facebook said it will make public whenever it does apply the exemption to a post.
The announcements are in response to recommendations from the company’s quasi-independent oversight board. Last month that panel upheld a decision by Facebook to keep Trump suspended but said the company could not merely suspend him “indefinitely” and gave it six months to decide what to do with his accounts.
Posts ‘severely violated’ Facebook, Instagram standards
In its decision last month, the board agreed with Facebook that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Instagram.
“We love you. You’re very special,” Trump said to the rioters in the first post. In the second, he called them “great patriots” and told them to “remember this day forever.”
Those posts violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, the board said, warranting the suspension. Specifically, the board cited Facebook’s rules against “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which prohibit anyone who proclaims a violent mission and ban posts that express support or praise of these people or groups.
Facebook has had a general “newsworthiness exemption” since 2016. But it garnered attention in 2019 when Clegg announced that speech from politicians will be treated as “newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.”
The newsworthiness exemption, he explained in a blog post at the time, meant that if “someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks our community standards we will still allow it on our platform if we believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm.”