Free at last. Meta has announced that former President Trump will be allowed back onto its Instagram and Facebook platforms this week. Over three years since his initial ban, the expressive former president has taken to his own platforms to share his insight and breaking news. While he announced in November 2022 that he would run for President in 2024, his following has grown stagnant. Meta’s decision to allow him to return to posting and interacting should present a new challenge and spectacle for Republicans and Democrats alike.
By Hallie Jackson and Dareh Gregorian; January 25, 2023
Former President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts are being reinstated, the social media giant Meta announced Wednesday — a little more than two years after he was suspended from the platforms over incendiary posts about the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Trump’s accounts will be reinstated “in the coming weeks” with “new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said in a statement. Meta owns Facebook and Instagram.
The guardrails will include “heightened penalties for repeat offenses — penalties which will apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest under our updated protocol,” Clegg said on the company’s website. “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.”
Trump celebrated the announcement on his social media platform, Truth Social.
“FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since ‘de-platforming’ your favorite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!” he wrote.
Asked why Meta was reinstating Trump despite recent inflammatory posts on Truth Social, Clegg said the company wanted to tread lightly on censorship concerns.
“We’re not trying to kind of, you know, censor everything that everyone says in an open and free democracy,” Clegg said in an interview with NBC News’ Hallie Jackson. “We think that open and free debate on the rough and tumble of the democratic debate should play out on Facebook and Instagram as much as anywhere else.”
Clegg contended that Meta has demonstrated a willingness to “draw a very sharp line,” knowing that what is posted on Facebook and Instagram can lead to real-world harm and that it “will act, and we have acted.”
Asked whether an effort by Trump to delegitimize an election by lying about it would lead to another suspension, Clegg suggested that it would not unless it clearly led to “imminent and real-world harm.” Instead, he said, the company would “take action to restrict the circulation of that content.”
Meta lifted Trump’s suspension weeks after the time frame Facebook gave itself to re-evaluate the 2021 ban and shortly after Republicans — many of whom have criticized Facebook’s decision — regained control of the House.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., then the minority leader, vowed to “rein in big tech power over our speech” after Facebook announced the length of Trump’s suspension in 2021.
Trump’s presidential campaign officially petitioned Facebook to allow Trump back on to the platform this month.
“We believe that the ban on President Trump’s account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse,” Trump’s campaign wrote in its Jan. 17 letter to Meta, according to a copy reviewed by NBC News.
A Trump adviser, who spoke this month on the condition of anonymity, said Trump’s campaign was prepared to turn to his allies in the House to pressure Facebook if necessary.
“If Facebook wants to have this fight, fine, but the House is leverage, and keeping Trump off Facebook just looks political,” the adviser said.
Clegg told NBC News that there have been “no discussions” with Trump’s team about his reinstatement, “nor should there be.”
Facebook announced in June 2021 that it was banning Trump from Facebook and Instagram until at least this month for a “severe violation of our rules” stemming from his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.
The accounts were first suspended after Trump offered warm words for the rioters in a pair of messages in which he asked that they go home, calling them “very special” and “great patriots.”
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!” he said in one of the posts.
The ban was initially scheduled to last 24 hours, but it was extended until the end of his term by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who said the “risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”
“Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete,” Zuckerberg wrote.
The company’s quasi-independent Oversight Board later said the site did the right thing by banning Trump but also found it had inappropriately varied from its normal penalties when it made the ban indefinite.
Clegg later announced that the ban would last until at least this month.
“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,” he said in June 2021.
At the time of Clegg’s 2021 announcement, Trump called the ban an “insult.”
“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 said in a statement then.
Trump’s rhetoric around Jan. 6 also resulted in what at the time was a permanent ban from Twitter, but the platform’s new owner, Elon Musk, reinstated his account on Nov. 19. Trump has not yet tweeted.
About a year after he left office, Trump launched Truth Social, where he has posted content that has included fraudulent stolen election claims and posts promoting QAnon conspiracy theories.
In his statement Wednesday, Clegg said Meta’s updated protocol addresses such posts, which do not violate its community standards but contribute “to the sort of risk that materialized on January 6th.”
“We may limit the distribution of such posts, and for repeated instances, may temporarily restrict access to our advertising tools. This step would mean that content would remain visible on Mr. Trump’s account but would not be distributed in people’s Feeds, even if they follow Mr. Trump. We may also remove the reshare button from such posts, and may stop them being recommended or run as ads,” he said.
Trump’s reach on Truth Social is not nearly as large as it was on the other platforms. He has slightly more than 4.8 million followers on Truth Social, compared to nearly 88 million on Twitter and 34 million on Facebook.
Some advisers have said Trump might be limited in posting on other platforms given his relationship with Truth Social. The site has declined to comment about any alleged limits, and a spokesman for Trump has said the campaign believes he will be able to return to Twitter as before.
Democrats had urged Meta to keep Trump off Facebook.
“Trump has continued to post harmful election content on Truth Social that would likely violate Facebook’s policies, and we have every reason to believe he would bring similar conspiratorial rhetoric back to Facebook, if given the chance,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to Meta last month signed by three Democratic colleagues.
On Wednesday, Schiff blasted Meta’s decision on Twitter.
“Trump incited an insurrection. And tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power. He’s shown no remorse. No contrition. Giving him back access to a social media platform to spread his lies and demagoguery is dangerous. @facebook caved, giving him a platform to do more harm,” Schiff tweeted.
Clegg said in his statement that Facebook was trying to be transparent.
“There is a significant debate about how social media companies should approach content posted on their platforms. Many people believe that companies like Meta should remove much more content than we currently do. Others argue that our current policies already make us overbearing censors. The fact is people will always say all kinds of things on the internet,” he said.