Facebook: We're suspending Trump for two years

AP Photo/John Raoux

If he wants to make them rethink this and let him back in early, he should start doing those trollish food videos where people prepare meals on the surface of their countertop.

Facebook loves that crap.

Maybe they’ll rethink it anyway when he’s reinstated as president in August.

You’ll recall that last month Facebook’s “Oversight Board” upheld his suspension following the insurrection but wrist-slapped the company for making that suspension indefinite. Normally, the board said, Facebook either suspends a user for a specific period of time or bans them permanently. Trump should get the same treatment. That placed Team Zuckerberg in an awkward spot: Since Trump is the frontrunner for the 2024 nomination and Republican campaigns stand to spend big bucks on advertising on the platform, did they really want to boot him off permanently?

They did not, it turns out. He’ll be back on January 7, 2023, two years to the day that his account was suspended. Coincidentally, right in time for the unofficial start of the 2024 presidential cycle.

Actually, let me rephrase that. He might be back on January 7, 2023.

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.

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.

In establishing the two year sanction for severe violations, we considered the need for it to be long enough 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.

I interpret that as “If he keeps screaming that the election was rigged, we’ll treat it as further incitement to insurrection and extend his suspension.” Which amounts to an “indefinite” penalty in practice, doesn’t it?

Trump is out with a statement this afternoon about the suspension in which he … calls the election “rigged”:

“I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or news in a democracy,” said Mark Zuckerberg two years ago. Less than two years later, he had changed his mind. In fact, Facebook’s also announcing today that going forward posts by political figures that violate their terms of service will be judged according to the same standards as every other user’s posts are. Until this rule change, politicians could say what they liked on FB without fear of meaningful sanction because their comments were deemed “newsworthy” even if they broke some rule against inciting violence or what have you. That changed for Trump with the culmination of his “stop the steal” campaign on January 6 but now it’s changing for everyone else too. Facebook will continue to make rare exceptions for certain “newsworthy” content, the company said this afternoon, but with no special preference for content from political figures.

Although, in reality, since anything said by an elected official is arguably “newsworthy,” they’re destined to get a wider berth than you or I will.

Evidently Chinese propaganda about Tiananmen Square is extremely newsworthy because there’s a lot of it on Facebook today:

Maybe it’s not newsworthy but also not a violation of Facebook’s “community standards” either. Which would be worse.

You would think Silicon Valley would anticipate objections like Miller’s at some point and factor them into their calculations about whether to punish disfavored politicians here at home. There are far more sinister characters than Trump operating abroad and yet they function with seeming impunity on American social media. To this day, an account devoted to publishing statements from Iran’s supreme leader is in good standing on Twitter despite Trump having been banned months ago. The fact that Facebook and others feel unmoved to durably address the double standard is evidence of their own sense of impunity as cultural brokers.

Anyway, I think the point of the two-year time frame was to make sure that Trump would be free to use the platform again once it came time for his next campaign. Facebook wants those ad dollars and it would have been awkward inviting Trump’s campaign to advertise on the site if his personal account were still banned. Bringing him back in 2023 avoids that tension, unless he keeps chattering about the 2020 election having been stolen and forces them to ban him permanently. But what are the odds of him doing that?