‘An insult to 75 million’: Trump lashes out after Facebook bans him for two years

Facebook announced Friday that former President Donald Trump’s accounts will be suspended for two years, extending the suspension that began in January following a finding that Trump stoked violence ahead of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol.

At the end of the suspension, in early 2023, the company “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,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post.

The former president called Facebook’s decision “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!” he said in a news release.

Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become indispensable tools for politicians to get their messages out and to raise small-dollar donations. Without the megaphone of Twitter and the targeted fundraising appeals his campaign mastered on Facebook, Trump could be at a serious disadvantage relative to other politicians.

Trump has not said yet whether he plans to run again for president in 2024. But in a sign of how difficult he finds his current circumstances, the blog he launched with much fanfare earlier this year was shut down after less than a month.

On Facebook, Trump’s suspension means that his account is essentially frozen. Others can read and comment on past posts, but Trump and other account handlers are unable to post new material. Twitter, by contrast, has permanently banned Trump from its service and no trace of his account remains.

Also Friday, Facebook also said it will stiffen penalties for public figures during times of civil unrest and violence. In a color-coded chart on its blog post Friday, the company said those who violate policies during such a time can be restricted from posting for a month (yellow) or as long as two years (red). Future violations, it said, will be met with “heightened penalties, up to and including permanent removal.”

Facebook also plans to end a contentious policy championed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg that automatically exempted politicians from rules that banned hate speech and abuse. The company has said it has never applied this policy to Trump.

The social media giant said it will still apply this “newsworthiness” exemption to certain posts it deems to be in the public interest, even if they violate Facebook rules. But it will no longer treat material posted by politicians any differently from that posted by anyone else. In addition, Facebook said it will make public whenever it does apply the exemption to a post.

The announcements are in response to recommendations from the company’s quasi-independent oversight board. Last month, that panel upheld a decision by Facebook to keep Trump suspended, but the board said the company could not merely suspend him indefinitely. It gave the company six months to decide what to do with his accounts.

In its decision last month, the board agreed with Facebook that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Instagram.

“We love you. You’re very special,” Trump said to the rioters in the first post. In the second, he called them “great patriots” and told them to “remember this day forever.”

Those comments violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, the board said, warranting the suspension. Specifically, the board cited Facebook’s rules against “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which prohibit anyone who proclaims a violent mission and bans posts that express support or praise of these people or groups.

The two-year suspension is effective from Jan. 7, so Trump has 19 months to go.

A group calling itself the Real Facebook Oversight Board, which is critical of Facebook and its oversight panel, said in a statement Friday that the ban brings Trump back just in time for the 2024 presidential election and shows “no real strategy to address authoritarian leaders and extremist content, and no intention of taking serious action against disinformation and hate speech.”

Jim Steyer, the founder and CEO of Common Sense Media and a member of the Real Oversight Board, said the ban should have been made permanent to send a clear message about protecting American democracy.

“It’s pretty straightforward. Donald Trump incited an insurrection, and the biggest attack on the Capitol in 150 years that left people dead and injured. And Facebook still doesn’t have the courage to ban him permanently from the platform,” he said.

Facebook has had a general “newsworthiness exemption” since 2016. But it garnered attention in 2019 when Clegg announced that speech from politicians will be treated as “newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.”

The newsworthiness exemption, he explained in a blog post at the time, meant that if “someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks our community standards we will still allow it on our platform if we believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm.”

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