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Meta restores Trump on Instagram and Facebook ahead of the 2024 election

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Meta announced Wednesday that it is reinstating former President Donald Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram following a two-year suspension for its role in praising the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Nick Clegg, the company’s president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post that Trump’s accounts will be reinstated in the coming weeks, but that he will face “heightened penalties” if he violates the social media giant’s content rules.

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that they can make informed choices at the polls,” Clegg wrote. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t limits to what people can say on our platform.”

The announcement follows a formal request from an attorney for Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign to allow him to return to the platform, arguing that a two-year ban in the wake of the January 6 attack “has dramatically distorted and hampered public discourse”.

Meta’s reinstatement, along with Twitter’s decision in November to lift a permanent ban on Trump, means the former president once again has an opportunity to reclaim the spotlight using two of the most crucial social media platforms in the world. world leading up to presidential elections in which he is a declared candidate.

His return to Facebook allows Trump to resume fundraising for his presidential campaign. While Trump’s main political action committee, Save America, has spent money on Facebook ads, its own page has been frozen.

Meta has suspended Trump’s accounts January 7, 2021, after his praise and encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol in an attack that left several dead and many more injured. The company subsequently made the two-year suspension and said it would reassess whether it was safe enough to reinstate its account when that period was over.

Clegg said Wednesday that Meta needed to evaluate whether there were still “extraordinary circumstances” that justified the company extending its suspension. After evaluating the “current environment,” including the risks surrounding the 2022 midterm elections, the company decided it was no longer necessary to extend the suspension, Clegg said.

“Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently diminished and that we should therefore stick to the two-year timeline that we have established,” Clegg wrote. “As such, we will be restoring Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks.”

Trump responded to Meta’s announcement by criticizing his suspension in the first place.

“FACEBOOK, which has lost billions of dollars in value since ‘deplatforming’ your favorite president, me, just announced they are restoring my account,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. “Something like this must never happen again to a sitting president, or anyone else who does not deserve retaliation!”

Meta’s decision is likely to reignite partisan battles over how social media platforms should treat world leaders who break their rules. Ahead of Meta’s decision, Democrats and some left-wing advocacy groups urged the company to extend Trump’s suspension, arguing that he was still spreading dangerous, baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud on Truth Social.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who previously urged the company to extend the ban, said on Twitter that Meta’s decision will allow the president to “spread his lies and demagoguery.”

Facebook “succumbed, giving it a platform to do more evil,” Schiff tweeted.

Social media platforms have drawn a lot of criticism from conservatives in the United States and even other world leaders, who argued that the company went too far when it silenced a political leader on an internet platform that has become crucial to public discourse. Many right-wing leaders praised Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, for reinstating Trump and committing to making more lenient rules for content moderation.

Historically, social media platforms have struggled to balance their desire to show the public potentially newsworthy but divisive messages from world leaders with their desire to mitigate some of the damaging effects of that rhetoric.

Clegg wrote that if Trump violates content, he could be suspended again for anywhere from one month to two years, depending on the severity of the violation. He added that other leaders whose accounts are reinstated following civil unrest-related suspensions will also face increased sentences.

“More serious violations, such as sharing a link to a statement by a terrorist group in the aftermath of an attack, merit a six- or 12-month content creation restriction,” the company said. “In cases where a violation is serious, we limit the account for 2 years.”

The company outlined its plan to address content from public figures that doesn’t specifically violate the company’s rules, but could lead to harmful events, such as the Jan. 6 attack. The company said it could limit the proliferation of such posts, for example by not distributing them in people’s feeds, removing the reshare button and preventing them from appearing as ads.

Meta’s suspension two years ago was the most aggressive punishment the company had handed out against Trump during his four-year term, as he repeatedly spread baseless allegations about voter fraud, the coronavirus pandemic and other divisive topics. While the company has placed warning labels on some of Trump’s posts in the past, Meta and other tech companies didn’t limit its ability to post until it praised the January 6 rioters.

When a mob forcefully entered the Capitol, Trump posted a video to Facebook and Instagram saying the election was “stolen” but telling protesters to go home. Later that night, when police secured the Capitol, Trump posted a written statement on Facebook claiming that “a holy landslide electoral victory” was “viciously stripped of great patriots who have been badly treated unfairly for so long.” He later told them to go home but remember the day forever. Meta deleted the posts for breaking the rules and blocked him from posting for 24 hours. The next day, the company suspended Trump indefinitely.

Five months later, the Oversight Board, a group of human rights experts, academics and lawyers who make binding rulings on some of Meta’s content moderation decisions, upheld the suspension, but said the indefinite duration was inappropriate and the company needed to establish criteria for when whether the account can be recovered.

The Oversight Board on Wednesday praised the company for expanding the range of penalties it applies to the problematic posts of world leaders, but urged the company to be more transparent about how it applies them.

“Meta has made significant progress in implementing necessary and proportionate penalties for varying severity of violations,” the board wrote.

The Jan. 6 congressional committee collected stunning details about the failure of tech companies to address online extremism ahead of the U.S. Capitol uprising, but the findings were ultimately not included in the committee’s final report. But a group of staffers who investigate social media companies warned in a memo circulated to committee members that the role of social media within “America’s stormy political climate” has not changed since Jan. 6.

Jacob Glick, who served as an investigative attorney for the commission, was critical of Meta’s decision. “His online incitement has almost toppled the rule of law — and he has made it clear that he will try again in 2024,” said Glick. “Meta’s failure to recognize the continued risk of political violence posed by Trump’s social media presence puts us all at risk.”

Trump is still banned from YouTube, which also kicked him off its platform in the wake of the January 6 attack. Like Facebook, the company has said it is constantly evaluating whether having an account on its Trump site would lead to any real harm. Spokespersons for Google’s video site did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Within Facebook, anger, regret over missed warning signs

Trump has so far refused to tweet since returning to Twitter, opting instead to use his Truth Social platform. Trump has said he will no longer participate in Twitter, but not all of his advisers said they believe he will keep that promise.

Cat Zakrzewski in Washington and Gerrit De Vynck in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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