Facebook suspends Donald Trump for two years, citing 'severe violation' after Capitol riots

Friday - 04/06/2021 14:21
Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram were frozen the day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol for his praise of supporters who stormed it.

Facebook suspended former President Donald Trump for two years but ending in time for him to possibly regain a powerful social media megaphone for the 2024 election cycle.

After that period, Facebook said it would consult experts to determine whether "the risk to public safety has receded," and make a call on Trump's return. 

But Facebook warned that Trump's Facebook and Instagram, if reinstated, would face a "strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions” if he violates the company's rules again after being reinstated on Jan. 7, 2023.

Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram were frozen the day after the attack on the U.S. Capitol for his praise of supporters who stormed it.

"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," Facebook said Friday.

Also on Friday, Facebook said it would no longer grant politicians special exemptions from its content policies after the social media giant faced a firestorm of criticism for being unclear on how and why it treats the speech of world leaders differently from any other user.

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Trump condemned Facebook's decision in a statement.

"Facebook’s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75 (million) people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election," he wrote. "They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our Country can’t take this abuse anymore!"

The Biden White House addressed the Trump suspension during Friday's press briefing.

"Our view continues to be though that every platform whether it's Facebook, Twitter, any other platform that is disseminating information to millions of Americans has a responsibility to crack down on disinformation to crack down on false information whether it's about the election, or even about the vaccine, as we're trying to keep the American public safe and get more people are returned to normal out in society," White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki told reporters. "We learned a lot from President Trump, the former president, over the last couple of years about his behavior and how he uses these platforms. Feels pretty unlikely that the zebra is going to change his stripes over the next two years. We'll see."

Facebook's Oversight Board – a quasi-independent panel of experts funded by Facebook – ruled that suspending Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts was the right move but said it was not appropriate to impose an indefinite suspension and instructed the company to review the matter within six months, opening the door to Trump's possible return.

"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," Facebook said.

Donald Trump suspended from Facebook for two years.
Donald Trump suspended from Facebook for two years. Evan Vucci, AP

Trump lost his direct link to supporters when he was booted from the nation's top social media platforms following the Capitol attack. He has relied instead on a patchwork of press releases and personal messages, television interviews, emails and robocalls to reach supporters. This week, he pulled the plug on a blog "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump" due to low readership.

Facebook also announced new “enforcement protocols” for exceptional cases like Trump’s.

“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,” Facebook said.

In a statement, Facebook's Oversight Board declined to comment until it had a chance to review the company's response.

Trump's two year suspension outrages political right and left

In announcing that Trump could rejoin his millions of followers in two years, Facebook acknowledged that the decision would be roundly criticized by conservatives and liberals alike. The right for years accused mainstream social media companies of censoring their speech. The left had campaigned for Trump to be permanently banned as he was on Twitter and Snapchat.

"There are many people who believe it was not appropriate for a private company like Facebook to suspend an outgoing President from its platform, and many others who believe Mr. Trump should have immediately been banned for life," the company said. "Our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible, in keeping with the instruction given to us by the Oversight Board."

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A group of critics who call themselves the Real Facebook Oversight Board lashed out at the decision.

"While many people will breathe a sigh of relief today that Facebook has banned Donald Trump for a further two years, this decision only goes to underline the enormous, unchecked power of Facebook and its repeated failure to police its platform," the group said in a statement. "Donald Trump and his allies used Facebook to incite an insurrection and attempted coup of the United States Government. The punishment: Back on Facebook just in time for Trump 2024, with no explanation at all why a two-year ban, or what the criteria is for determining his status when the ban expires."

Muslim Advocates also condemned Facebook for smoothing the way for Trump's return.

"Since getting banned from Facebook, Trump has been unrepentant about his hate and lies. He is still spreading lies about the election and still commands support from the same groups involved in the insurrection," Madihha Ahussain, Muslim Advocates’ senior policy counsel, said in a statement.

On the other side of the bitter political divide, conservative groups also lashed out.

“Facebook’s ruling on former President Donald Trump is just the latest evidence that Big Tech wields far too much power," Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center and founder of Free Speech America, said in a statement. "Leftist Facebook executives weren’t satisfied with interfering with the 2020 election. Now, they want to interfere with the 2024 campaign by knee-capping Trump before he can even get started."

Facebook to take harder line on politicians' speech

As part of Friday's announcement, Facebook said it would remove content from world leaders if "the risk of harm outweighs the public interest."

"We allow certain content that is newsworthy or important to the public interest to remain on our platform – even if it might otherwise violate our Community Standards. We may also limit other enforcement consequences, such as demotions, when it is in the public interest to do so," Facebook said.

But, moving forward, when it judges the newsworthiness of content, it will not treat content posted by politicians differently than that of any other user, Facebook said, "measuring whether the public interest value of the content outweighs the potential risk of harm by leaving it up."

Previously the speech of world leaders was much less likely to be restricted or removed when they violated the social media company’s content moderation policies.

Contributing: Michael Collins and Courtney Subramaniana


 Keywords: Facebook

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