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Meta restores Trump’s social media megaphone ahead of 2024 election

Jan. 25, 2023 Updated Wed., Jan. 25, 2023 at 4:56 p.m.

Donald Trump announces his bid for president at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 15.  (Thomas Simonetti/The Washington Post)
Donald Trump announces his bid for president at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Nov. 15. (Thomas Simonetti/The Washington Post)
By Naomi Nix Washington Post

Meta announced on Wednesday it was reinstating former president Donald Trump’s social media accounts after a two-year suspension over his role in praising the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Nick Clegg, the company’s president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post that Trump’s accounts would be reinstated in the coming weeks, but the former president will face “heightened penalties” if he continues to break the social media giant’s content rules.

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” Clegg wrote. “But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.”

The announcement follows a formal request from a lawyer for Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign to allow him to return to the platform, arguing that a two-year ban in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack has “dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse.”

Meta’s reinstatement – along with Twitter’s decision in November to lift a permanent ban against Trump – means the former president again has the ability to reclaim the spotlight using two of the most pivotal social media platforms in the world ahead of a presidential election in which he is a declared candidate.

Being reinstated to Facebook means Trump will be able to resume fundraising for his presidential campaign. While his primary political action committee, Save America, has been spending money on Facebook ads, Trump’s own page has been frozen.

Meta suspended Trump’s accounts on Jan. 7, 2021, following his praise and encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol in an attack that left several dead and many more injured. The company then shortened the suspension to two years and said that when that period was over, it would reassess whether it was safe enough to restore his account.

Clegg said Wednesday that Meta had to evaluate whether there were still “extraordinary circumstances” that justified the company extending his account suspension. Clegg said after evaluating the “current environment,” including risks surrounding the 2022 midterm elections, the company determined expanding the suspension was no longer necessary.

“Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out,” Clegg wrote. “As such, we will be reinstating Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks.”

Meta’s decision is likely to reignite partisan battles over how social media platforms should treat world leaders who break their rules. Ahead of Meta’s decision, Democrats and some left-leaning advocacy groups pushed the company to extend Trump’s suspension, arguing he was still peddling dangerous election fraud conspiracies on his alternative platform Truth Social.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., who previously urged the company to extend the ban, said on Twitter that Meta’s decision will enable the president to continue to “spread his lies and demagoguery.”

“@facebook caved, giving him a platform to do more harm,” Schiff tweeted.

But social media platforms also faced widespread criticism from conservatives in the United States and even other world leaders, who argued the company went too far when it silenced a political leader on an internet platform that has become critical for public discourse. Many right-leaning leaders praised Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk for reinstating Trump and pledging to create rules more lax on content moderation.

Historically, social media platforms have struggled to balance their desire to allow the public to view potentially newsworthy but divisive posts from world leaders with their desire to mitigate some of the harmful consequences of that rhetoric.

The suspension by Meta two years ago marked the most aggressive penalty the company had doled out against Trump over his four-year term when he repeatedly spread unfounded claims about election fraud, the COVID-19 pandemic and other divisive topics.

While the company slapped warning labels on some of Trump’s posts in the past, Meta and other tech companies didn’t restrict his ability to post until he praised the Jan. 6 rioters.

As a mob forcibly entered the Capitol, Trump posted a video on Facebook and Instagram in which he said the election was “stolen” but told the protesters to go home. Later that evening, as police secured the Capitol, Trump posted a written statement on Facebook claiming that “a sacred landslide election victory” had been “viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long.” He later told them to go home but to remember the day forever. Meta removed the posts for violating its rules and blocked him from posting for 24 hours. The next day, the company suspended Trump indefinitely.

Five months later, the Oversight Board, a group of human rights experts, academics and lawyers that issues binding rulings on some of Meta’s content moderation decisions, upheld the suspension but its indefinite length was in appropriate and said the company should establish criteria for when or whether the account could be restored.

The following month, Clegg said in a statement at the time that the company would give Trump a two-year suspension that would be lifted only if “the risk to public safety has receded.”

Trump has, so far, declined to tweet since being reinstated to Twitter, opting to use his Truth Social platform instead. Trump has said he wouldn’t rejoin Twitter but not all of his advisers believe he will stick to that promise.

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