Facebook announced Friday that former President Donald Trump’s accounts will be suspended for two years, freezing his presence on the social network until early 2023, following a finding that Trump stoked violence ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
At the end of the suspension, the company will assess whether Trump’s “risk to public safety” has subsided, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post. He said Facebook will take into account “external factors” such as instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest.
Facebook also announced that it would end a contentious policy that automatically exempted politicians from rules banning hate speech and abuse, and that it would stiffen penalties for public figures during times of civil unrest and violence.
The former president called Facebook’s decision on the suspension “an insult.” The two-year ban replaced a previous ruling that ordered Trump to be suspended indefinitely.
“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!” Trump said in a news release.
Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become indispensable tools for politicians to get their messages out and to raise small-dollar donations. Without the megaphone of Twitter and the targeted fundraising appeals his campaign mastered on Facebook, Trump could be at a serious disadvantage relative to other politicians.
Trump has teased running for president again in 2024. His aides say that he has been working on launching his own social media platform to compete with those that have booted him, but one has yet to materialize. A blog he launched on his existing website earlier this year was shut down after less than a month. It attracted dismal traffic.
On Facebook, Trump’s suspension means that his account is essentially frozen. Others can read and comment on past posts, but Trump and other account handlers are unable to post new material. Twitter, by contrast, has permanently banned Trump from its service, and no trace of his account remains.
“What they’ve done here is shield themselves from potential presidential rage” with a reassessment of Trump’s account in two years, said Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor.
In a color-coded chart on its blog post, the company said public figures who violate its policies during times of crisis can be restricted from posting for a month (yellow) or as long as two years (red). Future violations, it said, will be met with “heightened penalties, up to and including permanent removal.”
The policy that exempted politicians from rules on hate speech and abuse was once championed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The company said it never applied the policy to Trump, but on Friday backtracked to say it did use it once, in 2019 for a video of a rally on his Facebook page.
The social media giant said it will still apply the “newsworthiness” exemption to certain posts it deems to be in the public interest, even if they violate Facebook rules. But it will no longer treat material posted by politicians any differently than other posts. 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 the board said the company could not merely suspend him indefinitely. It gave the company six months to decide what to do with his accounts.
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 comments violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, the board said. Specifically, the board cited rules against “dangerous individuals and organizations” that prohibit anyone who proclaims a violent mission and ban posts that express support for those people or groups.
The two-year suspension is effective from Jan. 7, so Trump has 19 months to go.
Ahh @facebook. Maybe Fauci should tell Zuck!
But seriously, the open alliance between Big Tech and government agencies on #covid raises all sorts of questions, especially this one – if @facebook is serving as an arm of the government, why doesn’t the First Amendment apply to it? pic.twitter.com/EJDPNSFzHS
— Alex Berenson (@AlexBerenson) June 4, 2021
Associated Press writers Tali Arbel, Matt O’Brien and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
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