After Facebook banned then-President Donald Trump in January 2021 following the attack on the Capitol, the company said it would reconsider its status on the platform within two years. On Saturday, that time will run out and Facebook is grappling with a different landscape as it weighs whether to allow Trump back on its platform.
For one, social media looks different than it did two years ago.
Trump now has his own social media company, Truth Social, and his account has been restored to Twitter (where he hasn’t tweeted yet). Within Silicon Valley, the debate over when and why to ban accounts has shifted, particularly on Twitter since Elon Musk took over, decrying the company’s previous efforts to arbitrate content. And while there is no legal right for Trump or anyone else to be on social media, Republicans in Florida and Texas are trying to create laws that would prevent social media companies from removing certain posts.
All of that leaves Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg with a question: Is it safe for the company to allow Trump to return to the platform in this different social media environment?
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is not giving its opinion before its self-imposed two-year deadline, though it can give itself a few more weeks to think about the matter.
“We will announce a decision in the coming weeks in accordance with the process we presented,” Meta spokesman Andy Stone said in an email.
NBC News asked a handful of social media moderation experts what they thought about the upcoming decision. The responses offered an insight into social media changes and moderation since both Twitter and Facebook banned Trump.
Daniel Karell, a Yale University sociologist who studies how social media shapes political violence, said it’s not so easy to know what impact Trump’s words would have on Facebook now. In some ways, Facebook matters less, he said.
“Individuals who would be motivated to threaten public safety due to Trump’s presence in Meta are likely to be exposed to similar ideas and rhetoric over the past year through other platforms, media sources, and networks,” Karell said in an email. . Last year, Facebook reported the first decrease in users in its historyfueling investor fears of a possible death spiral.
Karell also noted a change in law enforcement’s approach to civil unrest; the FBI arrested about 900 people in connection with the January 6, 2021 attack.
But he added that «having Trump on widely used platforms normalizes his ideas and rhetoric, and most likely does not help reduce risks to public safety.»
Trump lost access to his accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other services in the days after January 6, 2021, after his supporters attacked the Capitol. In a tweet posted during the attack, Trump said that «Mike Pence did not have the courage to do what should have been done.» troublemakers sung «Hang Mike Pence» and came in a minute to reach the then vice president.
The next day, Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook that Trump’s suspension of that service would continue indefinitely, and at least for long enough. to ensure the peaceful transition of power to President Joe Biden. The platform had been used «to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government,» Zuckerberg Announced January 7, 2021.
In 2021, the oversight board that hears appeals of Meta content moderation decisions saying company sanctions should not be “indeterminate”, and Goal started a two year clockretroactive to Zuckerberg’s post.
Courtney Radsch, an academic who recently studied freedom of speech and technology at the UCLA Institute of Technology, Law and Policy, said it was clear to her that the threat from Trump has not abated. She cited «the plethora of elected representatives who feel they cannot be elected or re-elected without supporting his unsubstantiated claims and dangerous rhetoric.»
He also referred to Trump’s post on his own social media site, Truth Social, in December calling for the «termination» of the Constitution.
“Just like the people who died during the insurrection and the irreparable damage the former president did to the United States, democracy and global norms cannot be restored, nor must your access to Facebook be restored,” Radsch said in an email. electronic. At least seven people died in connection with the attack, according to the New York Times.
If Trump’s posts on Truth Social had appeared on Meta services, they would have gone against Meta community guidelines hundreds of times and roughly twice a day in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections, according to a report. report published last month by Accountable Techan advocacy organization.
Katie Harbath, a former employee of both Facebook and the Republican National Committee who is now a technology and political consultant, said she thinks the company should allow Trump to return but have a clear process if he violates the company’s terms of service or guidelines. of the community.
He said tech companies should fight to protect free speech, especially from political candidates, and that the example they set will be watched by foreign governments seeking justification to shut down free speech.
“I am very concerned internationally about the tendency of countries to pass laws under the pretext of regulating the technology companies that these governments are exploiting to subdue freedom of expression,” she wrote in an article for a conference on “deplatforming” in October.
It’s unclear how much Trump might use his Facebook and Instagram accounts if given the chance. He hasn’t tweeted since Musk restored his Twitter account. Trump’s political organization still has an active Facebook page, Team Trump, where someone posts on most days.
Despite Trump’s silence on social media platforms other than Truth Social, he is still campaigning for the White House in 2024 and actively appealing to conspiracy theorists and election deniers.
Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said in a June 2021 Blog Post that Meta would «seek out experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has diminished» before unlocking Trump’s access.
“We will assess external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly, and other indicators of civil unrest,” he wrote. «If we determine that a serious risk to public safety still exists, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to reassess until that risk has abated.»
The company has an internal group of employees working on the issue, the Financial Times reported.
Musk, on Twitter, also turned to outsiders for help with his decision, but to users, not experts. Musk allowed users to vote on the idea, and his poll received more than 15 million votes.
“The people have spoken,” Musk said then.
Meta has no plans to survey its users about Trump, said Stone, the company spokesman.