Facebook announced Friday that it would maintain its suspension of former President Donald Trump‘s participation in the social media site for two years – until January 2023 – but said he could return if he stopped committing ‘violations’.
Mark Zuckerberg handed the former president what he says was the company’s ‘highest penalty’ after the Facebook Oversight Board criticized the indefinite ban handed down after the Capitol riot.
The company issued a detailed statement Friday spelling out the reason for its continuation of the ban – and acknowledging internal criticism that an ‘open-ended’ suspension that left the former president in limbo.
It came after the company’s oversight board announced in January that it had suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, but had failed to provide an end-date.
The new statement acknowledged permanent removal was an option ‘if Mr. Trump commits further violations’ of its policies in the future.’
But the company also noted its oversight board had ‘criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension, stating that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.”‘
Trump responded to ruling with his own blistering statement – which he released by email, and where he once again called the election ‘rigged,’ in a statement that might not make it by Facebook’s standards.
‘Facebook’s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election. 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 wrote.
Trump received 74 million votes in the national popular vote, compared to Biden’s 81 million, and lost to Biden in the Electoral College, which determines the winner of the presidency.
Facebook’s statement cited the ‘gravity’ of the conduct that got him bumped in the first place, after flagging his repeated claims of election fraud and other issues. The statement also referenced ‘acts of incitement’ in reference to his comments around the time of the January 6th Capitol riot, when Congress met to certify the electoral votes.
Former President Donald Trump’s suspension from Facebook will last for two years, the company said in a statement
‘Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,’ according to the statement, authored by Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of Great Britain.
‘We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year,’ the company said.
That means the suspension will remain through the 2022 off-year elections where Trump is seeking to play a significant role. But if he abides by its rules, he could once again use the platform where he has signed up millions of followers for a 2024 run.
‘We are today announcing new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and we are confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which we are applying to Mr. Trump’s accounts,’ the company said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 25, 2021. The company released a new statement and provided an end date for Trump’s suspension, provided he does not commit further violations of its policies
But the company warned: ‘When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.’
‘In establishing the two year sanction for severe violations, we considered the need for it to be long enough to allow a safe period of time after the acts of incitement, to be significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr. Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future, and to be proportionate to the gravity of the violation itself,’ the company said.
The blow comes after it was revealed Trump was taking down his own ‘From the Desk of Donald J. Trump’ web site after just 29 days following reports of slow traffic.
The Facebook ban drew howls of protest from Trump and GOP allies who railed against ‘Big Tech’ and its ability to use its sway to try to keep public figures from using the platform.
But the company spelled out what it viewed as a ‘serious risk to public safety’ if Trump were allowed back on.
‘We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.’
The announcement comes during a week when the New York Times reported Trump expects to be reinstated to the White House later this summer, following the conclusion of ‘audits,’ such as one ordered by the Republican Senate in Arizona. That is one of the states where Trump claims election fraud, although the state certified President Joe Biden as the winner and Congress counted the votes for Biden.
Trump’s last post on Facebook remains his final message on January 6 in which he said: ‘I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence!
‘Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!’ he wrote. The appeal came after lawmakers reportedly pleaded with him to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol.
Federal prosecutors said this week the riot resulted in $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol. They have prosecuted hundreds of people who took part.
Trump was acquitted in the Senate on charges that included ‘incitement of insurrection.’
Trump has continued to play a prominent role in national discussions since he left the White House and skipped Biden’s inauguration. Polling shows a substantial number of Republicans agree the election results are tainted, after Trump spent months sowing doubts about mail ballots and vote counters both before and after the elections using Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.
But he has struggled to find a way to consistently put out his message, even while shattering the mold of ex-presidents with his frequent commentary on his successor.
Shortly before the Facebook statement, Trump used his own ‘Save America PAC’ to send out an emailed statement questioning the results in Arizona as well as Pennsylvania, which also went for Biden. He leveled a political threat at some Pennsylvania Republican legislators.
‘The people of Pennsylvania and America deserve to know the truth. If the Pennsylvania Senate leadership doesn’t act, there is no way they will ever get re-elected!’ he wrote.
Trump´s suspension from Facebook has still allowed people to read an comment on his past posts. Twitter, on the other hand, has banned him entirely and wiped away his former presence.
Facebook’s statement on Trump’s two-year ban
Last month, the Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s suspension of former US President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6. But in doing so, the board criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension, stating that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.” The board instructed us to review the decision and respond in a way that is clear and proportionate, and made a number of recommendations on how to improve our policies and processes.
We are today announcing new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and we are confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which we are applying to Mr. Trump’s accounts. Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols. We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.
At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.
When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.
In establishing the two year sanction for severe violations, we considered the need for it to be long enough to allow a safe period of time after the acts of incitement, to be significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr. Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future, and to be proportionate to the gravity of the violation itself.
We are grateful that the Oversight Board acknowledged that our original decision to suspend Mr. Trump was right and necessary, in the exceptional circumstances at the time. But we absolutely accept that we did not have enforcement protocols in place adequate to respond to such unusual events. Now that we have them, we hope and expect they will only be applicable in the rarest circumstances.
We know that any penalty we apply — or choose not to apply — will be controversial. There are many people who believe it was not appropriate for a private company like Facebook to suspend an outgoing President from its platform, and many others who believe Mr. Trump should have immediately been banned for life. We know today’s decision will be criticized by many people on opposing sides of the political divide — but our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible, in keeping with the instruction given to us by the Oversight Board.
Of course, this penalty only applies to our services — Mr. Trump is and will remain free to express himself publicly via other means. Our approach reflects the way we try to balance the values of free expression and safety on our services, for all users, as enshrined in our Community Standards. Other social media companies have taken different approaches — either banning Mr. Trump from their services permanently or confirming that he will be free to resume use of their services when conditions allow.
The Oversight Board’s decision is accountability in action. It is a significant check on Facebook’s power, and an authoritative way of publicly holding the company to account for its decisions. It was established as an independent body to make binding judgments on some of the most difficult content decisions Facebook makes, and to offer recommendations on how we can improve our policies. As today’s announcements demonstrate, we take its recommendations seriously and they can have a significant impact on the composition and enforcement of Facebook’s policies.
Its response to this case confirms our view that Facebook shouldn’t be making so many decisions about content by ourselves. In the absence of frameworks agreed upon by democratically accountable lawmakers, the board’s model of independent and thoughtful deliberation is a strong one that ensures important decisions are made in as transparent and judicious a manner as possible. The Oversight Board is not a replacement for regulation, and we continue to call for thoughtful regulation in this space.
We are also committing to being more transparent about the decisions we make and how they impact our users. As well as our updated enforcement protocols, we are also publishing our strike system, so that people know what actions our systems will take if they violate our policies. And earlier this year, we launched a feature called ‘account status’, so people can see when content was removed, why, and what the penalty was.
In response to a recommendation by the Oversight Board, we are also providing more information in our Transparency Center about our newsworthiness allowance and how we apply it. We allow certain content that is newsworthy or important to the public interest to remain on our platform — even if it might otherwise violate our Community Standards. We may also limit other enforcement consequences, such as demotions, when it is in the public interest to do so. When making these determinations, however, we will remove content if the risk of harm outweighs the public interest.
We grant our newsworthiness allowance to a small number of posts on our platform. Moving forward, we will begin publishing the rare instances when we apply it. Finally, when we assess content for newsworthiness, we will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by anyone else. Instead, we will simply apply our newsworthiness balancing test in the same way to all content, measuring whether the public interest value of the content outweighs the potential risk of harm by leaving it up.
Along with these changes, we have also taken substantial steps to respond to the other policy recommendations the board included in their decision. Out of the board’s 19 recommendations, we are committed to fully implementing 15. We are implementing one recommendation in part, still assessing two recommendations, and taking no further action on one recommendation. Our full responses are available here.
— Facebook VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg