Facebook Bans Trump for Two Years

Facebook will suspend Trump throughout 2021 and 2022 due to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 and would revisit the suspension in early 2023 with the possibility of extending it if Trump continues to incite “civil unrest.” 

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(CN) — Facebook said it will suspend former President Donald Trump from its platform for at least two years, meaning the earliest he would be allowed to post is January 2023. 

“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,” said Facebook’s vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg. “We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on Jan. 7 this year.”

Clegg said the update was in reaction to the Facebook Oversight Board’s criticism of the suspension as indefinite, saying the punishment lacked standards and could be troublesome in terms of establishing precedent. 

“It was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension,” the Oversight board said last month. 

However, Facebook did provide the caveat that Trump could be suspended for longer should he resort to inciting violence or threatening public safety. 

“We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest,” Clegg said. “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.”

The Oversight Board withheld comment Friday. 

“The Oversight Board is reviewing Facebook’s response to the board’s decision in the case involving former U.S. President Donald Trump and will offer further comment once this review is complete,” the group said via Twitter. 

Facebook originally banned Trump on Jan. 7, citing ongoing concerns about violence from his supporters, dozens if not hundreds of whom broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in effort to interfere with the counting of the electoral votes.

The riot followed weeks of Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, despite his receiving about 7 million fewer votes than the Democratic challenger. President Joe Biden won 306 out of a possible 538 electoral votes. 

Twitter, which had been Trump’s preferred method of communication — particularly toward the end of his tempestuous tenure in the White House — banned him first. Facebook and Google-owned YouTube followed.

“We believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote at the time. 

Facebook began considering what to do with Trump’s account immediately suspending him, then referred the matter to its oversight board — an independent body comprised of 40 people from law, technology, media and journalism who have the power to overturn Facebook content-moderation decisions. 

A five-member panel prepared the decision, and a majority of the board then voted to approve, finding that two posts that Trump had made on Jan. 6 “severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines.”

In the first, Trump wrote: “We love you. You’re very special,” about the rioters, and in the second he wrote about “great patriots” and called on the public to “remember this day forever.”

“The board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible,” the decision states. “At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions.”

Conservatives and free-speech advocates have condemned the ban, which they say exemplifies the burgeoning effort of one political group to eliminate the speech of others with whom they disagree and the outsized role Silicon Valley plays in policing the public discourse. 

Trump had no claims to a First Amendment case, as there is no right to use the platforms provided by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others. Many pundits believe a government official forcing private companies to publish the speech of officials would in fact violate the First Amendment rights of the private companies themselves. 

But free-speech advocates argue banning Trump sets a dangerous precedent and is a sign that Silicon Valley wields enormous power and prompts questions about who is and should control the public discourse. 

Facebook’s oversight board members include Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Prize laureate and journalist; Stanford law professor Michael McConnell; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark; and Julie Owono, a human rights and internet rights advocate.

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