Concerns have been expressed this week that allowing Donald Trump to return to Facebook could encourage others to lash out, while he could use it to spread misinformation and direct personal attacks against others.
However, Meta announced this week that it will reinstate the former president’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Trump had been banned from the platform following the uprising on January 6, 2021, and later referred that decision to the Oversight Board — an “expert body” the social network established to be an independent check and balance on its decision-making process.
The board subsequently upheld the decisions, but criticized the indefinite nature of the suspension, as well as the lack of clear criteria for when and if suspended accounts can be reinstated.
“The suspension was an extraordinary decision taken under extraordinary circumstances. The normal state is for the public to be able to hear from a former President of the United States, and a declared candidate for that office again, on our platforms,” Facebook said in an official statement.
“Like any other Facebook or Instagram user, Mr. Trump is subject to our community standards. In light of his violations, he now also faces increased penalties for repeat offenses — penalties that will apply to other public figures whose accounts are restored from suspension related to civil unrest under our updated protocol. In the event that Mr. Trump posts additional offending content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” Facebook added.
Appearing to celebrate the lifting of the ban, the former president posted on his Truth Social platform, “FACEBOOK, which has lost billions of dollars in value since being “de-platformed” your favorite president, me, has just announced that they are restoring the account min. nothing should ever again happen to a sitting president or anyone else who does not deserve retribution!”
Trump’s presidential campaign had officially petitioned Facebook to allow him back on the platform earlier this month, arguing that the ban had stifled public discourse.
Some have questioned the decision and suggested that the ban should not have been lifted.
“The concerns being expressed are legitimate,” cautioned David Jacobson, professor of global business strategy at SMU’s Cox School of Business. “When Trump’s earliest social media started, he parroted social media posts posted by Russian state security fronts in the name of supposed Americans, whose topics were designed to undermine the nation’s confidence in our social systems and democracy as a whole . . .
The Facebook ban, in response to the events of January 6, 2021, was meant to highlight that no one, especially someone with the ability to rally a crowd to action, should be above the rules.
“It’s understandable why social media companies were resistant to censoring the then-president,” explained
Colin Campbell, associate professor of marketing at the University of San Diego’s Knauss School of Business and editor-in-chief of Journal of Advertising Research.
“He probably could have taken actions that could have harmed them and their shareholders,” Campbell added. “But January 6 shows that so much more than profit was at stake. The fact that Twitter’s own security team had to resort to manual oversight methods most likely made it easier for insurgents to organize their attack.”
The Capitol uprising further highlighted the ability of online word of mouth to rapidly snowball into larger organized movements. The question now is how these companies could or should react.
“Social media can consider several different solutions to protect themselves from similar situations in the future,” Campbell said. “Automated tools can be used to identify and limit harmful content before it is even posted.”
Social media may also need to develop their software so that no one is ever dropped from the moderation platform. It can further ensure that purpose-built tools for rapid assessment and blocking are still an option.
More generally, it should be understood that social media has risks, and it has become a powerful platform for the spread of misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and even content that can incite violence.
“A number of industries are subject to regulations that protect the public — such as safety standards for airlines or defamation laws for broadcasters,” noted Campbell. “Social media also has potential harms that require thoughtful consideration and response.”