Donald Trump will remain persona nongrata on Facebook for at least two years, the tech company revealed Friday, in a decision extending the former president’s ban following the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C.
Facebook took the extraordinary measure after Trump supporters, stoked by a nearby rally held by Trump and his acolytes, stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win. But the question of whether to make the ban permanent or allow Trump’s return was left to Facebook’s independent Oversight Board.
Last month, the board punted. But in doing so, it also called out the company for levying an “indeterminate and standardless penalty,” leading Facebook to determine that at least two years will be Trump-free on the platform, from the ban’s effective date. That puts his potential return at Jan. 7, 2023.
There’s some potential for the exile to continue past that point. According to Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications, the company won’t lift the ban until ”the risk to public safety has receded.”
The move was a first for Facebook, but it may not be the last.
In an announcement posted Friday, Clegg wrote the company is fashioning new rules for “exceptional cases such as this,” lending credence to reports that the platform’s special treatment for politicians and world leaders would be coming to an end.
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For years, the social giant has argued that certain political figures shouldn’t be held to the same fact-checking or content moderation standards and policies applied to everyday users. For instance, while posts that stoke or glorify violence are not permitted, remarks posted by Trump in 2020 implying that the National Guard would shoot looters in Minnesota were allowed to remain.
Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg has had to explain the company’s philosophy, not only to outside critics but also to his own employees. Apparently plenty were confused, even dismayed by the company’s actions.
Reportedly, he explained to the company’s internal chat that “it is better to have this discussion out in the open, especially when the stakes are so high. I disagree strongly with how the president spoke about this, but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves, because ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”
Since then, Clegg elaborated in public remarks that “we will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard,” minus extreme circumstances, such as imminent harm, the discouragement of voting or distribution of clearly illegal material, like child pornography.
Now it may be ready to ditch this hands-off approach for politicians, world leaders and other influential figures. Whether Facebook will treat them just like anyone else, subject to the same standards, remains to be seen. But at minimum, it pledges at least some sort of action for the most egregious cases.
“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,” Clegg added. “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.”
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