In a highly anticipated decision, Meta has said it will allow Donald Trump back on Facebook and Instagram following a two-year ban from the platforms over his online behavior during the 6 January insurrection.
Meta will allow Trump to return “in coming weeks” but “with new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses”, president of global affairs Nick Clegg wrote in a blogpost explaining the decision.
“Like any other Facebook or Instagram user, Mr Trump is subject to our community standards,” Clegg wrote.
“In the event that Mr Trump posts further violating 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.”
While it is unclear if the former president will begin posting again on the platform, his campaign indicated he had a desire to return in a letter sent to Meta in January.
“We believe that the ban on President Trump’s account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse,” the letter said.
The move is likely to influence how other social media companies will handle the thorny balance of free speech and content moderation when it comes to world leaders and other newsworthy individuals, a debate made all the more urgent by Trump’s run for the US presidency once again.
Online safety advocates have warned that Trump’s return will result in an increase of misinformation and real-life violence. Since being removed from Meta-owned platforms, the former president has continued to promote baseless conspiracy theories elsewhere, predominantly on his own network, Truth Social.
“With the mass murders in Colorado or in Buffalo, you can see there is already a cauldron of extremism that is only intensified if Trump weighs in,” said Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of media watchdog Media Matters for America. “When Trump is given a platform, it ratchets up the temperature on a landscape that is already simmering – one that will put us on a path to increased violence.”
Trump was removed from Meta platforms following the Capitol riots on 6 January 2021, during which he posted unsubstantiated claims that the election had been stolen which fueled the violence, and condemned former vice-president Mike Pence even as protestors threatened his life. Those actions also caused the former president to be banned from Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube.
Some companies have already allowed Trump to return. Twitter’s ban, while initially permanent, was later overruled by its new chief executive Elon Musk. YouTube has not shared a timeline on a decision to allow Trump to return. Trump remains banned from Snapchat.
Meta, however, has dragged its ultimate decision out over several years. In 2021, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a post Trump had been barred from the platforms for encouraging violence and that he would remain suspended until a peaceful transition of power could take place.
“His decision to use his platform to condone rather than condemn the actions of his supporters at the Capitol building has rightly disturbed people in the US and around the world,” Zuckerberg said.
While Zuckerberg did not initially offer a timeline on the ban, the company punted its decision about whether to remove him permanently to its oversight board: a group of appointed academics and former politicians meant to operate independently of Facebook’s corporate leadership. That group ruled in May 2021 that the penalties should not be “indeterminate”, but kicked the final ruling on Trump’s accounts back to Meta, suggesting it decide in six months – two years after the riots.
The deadline for a decision was initially slated for 7 January, and reports from inside Meta suggested the company was intensely debating the decision. Clegg wrote in a 2021 blog post that Trump’s accounts would need to be strictly monitored in the event of his return.
“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 the future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts,” Clegg said.
It remains to be seen if Trump will actually begin posting again on the platforms where his accounts have been reinstated. While he initially suggested he would be “staying on Truth [Social]”, his own social media platform, recent reports said he was eager to return to Facebook, formally appealing Meta to reinstate his accounts. But weeks after returning to Twitter, Trump had yet to tweet again. Some have suggested the silence has been due to an exclusivity agreement he has with Truth Social.
A report from Rolling Stone said Trump planned to begin tweeting again when the agreement, which requires him to post all news to the app six hours in advance of any other platform, expires in June. Trump has a far broader reach on mainstream social platforms compared to Truth Social, where he has just 5 million followers.
Many online safety advocates have warned Trump’s return would be toxic, and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill urged Meta in a December letter to uphold the ban.
“For Meta to credibly maintain a legitimate election integrity policy, it is essential that your company maintain its platform ban on former president Trump,” the letter said. “Based on Meta’s own statement on standards for allowing Trump back on the platform, his account should continue to be restricted.”
Trump’s account has remained online even after his ban, but he had been unable to publish new posts. As of Wednesday afternoon, he had not yet posted again.