Almost four months to the day following the January 6 riots at the US Capitol — which was the catalyst for Facebook kicking him off its platform — the social network’s Supreme Court-like oversight body has voted to keep the ban on President Trump in place. However, the decision also chided Facebook for its blanket suspension of Trump from its service indefinitely and encouraged Facebook to review the Trump ban in six months, essentially kicking the can back to Facebook.
The decision was announced Wednesday morning and was all but guaranteed to be seen as unsatisfactory and widely derided, no matter the outcome. A decision that went against the president was always going to enrage conservatives who think Big Tech is aligned against them. In fact, President Trump on Tuesday launched a blog-like platform of his own, one that will allow his supporters a convenient place to see every update he posts. Meantime, letting him return to the world’s biggest social network was also always going to raise the ire of the other half of the country, who will point to disinformation and untruths disseminated by the president — and even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own words, when he posted this to his followers the day after the Capitol riots: “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
So if that’s how Zuckerberg felt then, how would letting Trump back on now be explained? After all, a May 3 post on Trump’s new communications platform reads, simply: “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” Facebook squares this circle by pointing to the independence and finality of the decisions that emanate from the Facebook Oversight Board, which was set up in the first place because people felt that Zuckerberg & Co. have too much power to impose decisions unilaterally on a user base that’s now tantamount to the size of a country — multiple countries, actually.
It probably can’t be overstated how momentous of a decision this was for the Oversight Board. It has national policy implications, for example, because letting Trump back on to Facebook would instantly give him a much, much bigger megaphone that might or might not have implications for the Biden administration.
If former President Trump is reinstated on Facebook and Instagram this week, will the White House under President Biden change its messaging strategy?
“No,” says @PressSec
— Matt Viser (@mviser) May 4, 2021
Facebook has also always been the lifeblood of Trump’s political campaign organization, in terms of the social network’s fundraising capabilities, the ability to hyper-personalize ads, and, of course, its communications tools ranging from posts to video and live streams. In fact, Axios reported Wednesday that Trump World was keenly awaiting Wednesday morning’s announcement because Facebook could end up being key to a 2024 Trump election bid.
One thing that’s gotten a little lost in all the breathless takes about a positive decision for Trump from the Facebook Oversight Board is that letting him back on Facebook would also make him subject to fact-checking on the platform, just like normal people are subject to. In other words, Trump would no longer enjoy his quasi-protected status as a political figure and newsmaker, which often meant that problematic posts during his White House tenure were kept up instead of taken down because of their supposed news value.
At any rate, Trump decided to hedge his bets in advance of the Facebook decision, and on Wednesday launched a website billed as being “From the Desk of Donald J Trump.” Visitors to it (at DonaldJTrump.com/desk) are greeted with short-burst posts from Trump in the style of his former tweets, since he’s still banned from Twitter, too.