"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 future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts," the company said on Friday

By Adam Carlson and Sean Neumann
June 04, 2021 02:19 PM
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Former President Donald J Trump speaks during the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando on Sunday, Feb 28, 2021 in Orlando, FL
Donald Trump
| Credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

Facebook announced Friday that it will revisit Donald Trump's ban from the platform in 2023 and only reinstate him once the risk his conduct poses to the public "has receded."

The former president was indefinitely removed from Facebook and Instagram in January, in the immediate wake of the U.S. Capitol attack by a mob of his supporters. (A number of major social media companies similarly booted him.)

"The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said at the time.

Trump, 74, appealed his punishment to Facebook's Oversight Board, an appeals group funded by the company which found in May that his ban was appropriate but that the guidelines for it were too vague.

The board, which Facebook funds as a monitor on its decisions, is made up of 20 members — mostly academics but also nonprofit leaders, journalists and the former prime minister of Denmark.

Their ruling prompted Facebook's latest announcement, on Friday.

"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," a company spokesman said in a blog post.

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pro Trump protesters breach Capitol building
Rioters at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6
| Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty

"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," the spokesman continued. "We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year."

The company spokesman wrote that the length of the two-year ban was arrived at "to allow a safe period of time after the acts of incitement, to be significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr. Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future, and to be proportionate to the gravity of the violation itself."

"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," the spokesman wrote. "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 spokesman wrote that, if Trump returns to Facebook, "there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts."

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump return to the White House on May 27, 2020 in Washington, DC
From left: Donald and Melania Trump returning to the White House in May 2020
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty

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"We know that any penalty we apply — or choose not to apply — will be controversial," the spokesman acknowledged. But, he wrote, "our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible, in keeping with the instruction given to us by the Oversight Board."

In a statement, Trump called Facebook's decision an "insult" to the people who voted for him and complained that "they shouldn't be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win."

On Friday, Facebook also announced what it said were other policy changes in response to the Oversight Board, including being more transparent about whom it exempts from content guidelines for being newsworthy.

The company again said it wanted lawmakers to agree on regulations so they wouldn't "be making so many decisions about content by ourselves."

Before the Capitol riots, some social media companies said Trump's infamously divisive style was too newsworthy, as a politician, to be subject to strict moderation.

The board, in its May decision, also suggested Facebook, as a platform, may have had some role in the disinformation that fueled the Trump mob.

The company should "undertake a comprehensive review of Facebook's potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence [at the Capitol]," the board said.