Facebook extends the ban hammer on Donald Trump... for now

AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This morning was the due date for a decision from Facebook’s Oversight Board in the matter of the platform’s choice to permanently suspend former President Donald Trump from the social networking community on both Facebook and Instagram. Right on schedule, they released their ruling. If all you looked at was the opening line, it looks like more bad news for Trump. The Board upheld Facebook’s initial decision to deplatform Trump on January 7 of this year. But they then move on to describe the indefinite decision as “not appropriate” and not in keeping with their normal standards. Rather than ordering Trump to be reinstated immediately, the Board has kicked the can down the road, giving Facebook another six months to review their standards and implement policies that are consistent for all users, no matter how famous or obscure they may be.

The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account.

However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.

The Board insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision. The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression.

This doesn’t add up to a headline that will be of much use to Trump because it’s really just a half-measure. If they had upheld a permanent ban and banished Trump from the kingdom, he would have seized on that and begun issuing press releases pointing to Mark Zuckerberg as a liberal tyrant who is trying to muzzle influential conservative voices. He would have probably run a huge fundraising push based on the announcement.

Conversely, if the Board had ordered Trump reinstated immediately, he likely would have jumped back into the platform feet first and began railing against Zuckerberg on his own platform anyway. That was probably what he was hoping for. As Axios pointed out this week, while Trump may not openly admit it, he very much wanted to be back online at both Facebook and Twitter. Facebook in particular was key in Trump’s fundraising efforts since he first launched his presidential bid and he invested far more heavily in Facebook advertising than Joe Biden did.

While Trump is known for his connection to Twitter, Facebook has always been central to his campaign strategy. His team used the social network relentlessly in 2016 and 2020 to raise money and energize hardcore supporters.

Trump spent around $160 million on Facebook ads in 2020, microtargeting key supporters. Biden spent $117 million on the same effort.

The problem for Trump in this ruling is that he’s been tossed back into bureaucratic limbo, probably until November. And there’s no guarantee that he’ll be re-platformed then, either. It’s always been obvious that a permanent suspension was uncalled for and unjustified. Zuckerberg always wanted to find a way to take Donald Trump down and the Capitol Hill riot was just the excuse he was waiting for. So Facebook took action before the scene of the attack had even been cleaned up without waiting for any sort of formal investigation into what really happened.

Should we expect Trump to be reinstated later this year? I wouldn’t bet on it. And even if it happens, you just know that Donald Trump will be raising hell on his account immediately, basically daring Zuckerberg to kick him off again. And that’s one dare that Facebook will probably gladly take.