Facebook is suspending Donald Trump’s account for two years, the company has announced in a highly anticipated decision that follows months of debate over the former president’s future on social media.
“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols. We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs, said in a statement on Friday.
At the end of the suspension period, Facebook said, it would work with experts to assess the risk to public safety posed by reinstating Trump’s account. “We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest,” Clegg wrote. “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.”
He added that once the suspension was lifted, “a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions” would be triggered if Trump violated Facebook policies.
Friday’s decision comes just weeks after input from the Facebook oversight board – an independent advisory committee of academics, media figures and former politicians – who recommended in early May that Trump’s account not be reinstated.
However the oversight board punted the ultimate decision on Trump’s fate back to Facebook itself, giving the company six months to make the final call. The board said that Facebook’s “indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension” for Trump was “not appropriate”, criticism that Clegg wrote the company “absolutely accept[s]”.
The new policy allows for escalating penalties of suspensions for one month, six months, one year, and two years.
The former president has been suspended since January, following the deadly Capitol attack that saw a mob of Trump supporters storm Congress in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The company suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts over posts in which he appeared to praise the actions of the rioters, saying that his actions posed too great a risk to remain on the platform.
Following the Capitol riot, Trump was suspended from several major tech platforms, including Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat. Twitter has since made its ban permanent.
The former president called Facebook’s decision “an insult to the record-setting 75m people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election,” in a statement. “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win.” Trump received fewer than 75m votes in the 2020 election, which he lost.
Facebook also announced that it would revoke its policy of treating speech by politicians as inherently newsworthy and exempt from enforcement of its content rules that ban, among other things, hate speech. The decision marks a major reversal of a set of policies that Clegg and Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, once championed as crucial to democracy and free speech.
The company first created the newsworthiness exemption to its content rules in 2016, following international outcry over its decision to censor posts including the historic “napalm girl” photograph for violating its ban on nude images of children. The new rule tacitly acknowledged the importance of editorial judgment in Facebook’s censorship decisions.
In 2019, at a speech at the Atlantic festival in Washington, Clegg revealed that Facebook had decided to treat all speech by politicians as newsworthy, exempting it from content rules. “Would it be acceptable to society at large to have a private company in effect become a self-appointed referee for everything that politicians say? I don’t believe it would be,” Clegg said at the time.
Under the new rules, Clegg wrote Friday, “when we assess content for newsworthiness, we will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by anyone else”.
The newsworthiness exemption is by no means the only policy area in which Facebook treats politicians differently from other users. The company also exempts politicians’ speech from its third-party fact-checking and maintains a list of high-profile accounts that are exempted from the AI systems that Facebook relies on for enforcement of many of its rules.
Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about whether those policies remain in effect.