Ban or bring back: What should Facebook do about Trump?

·Senior Editor
·6-min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account was upheld by an independent oversight board on Wednesday, but the group said Facebook can’t maintain Trump’s current suspension indefinitely and must decide whether to reinstate his account or ban him permanently within the next six months.

The board found that Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, were justified in suspending Trump’s account on Jan. 6 after he posted statements perpetuating the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and praising those who were involved in the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. The board ruled, however, that a suspension with no clear end date represents a “vague, standardless penalty” that violates Facebook’s content policies — which only allow for suspensions of specific time periods or permanent bans.

Facebook and Twitter faced criticism throughout Trump’s presidency for not doing more to rein in his behavior on their platforms. The companies unveiled a series of increasingly aggressive moderation policies during Trump’s final months in office in response to a barrage of posts containing misinformation about the integrity of the election and the dangers of COVID-19. Twitter banned Trump permanently after the insurrection. Other platforms like YouTube and Twitch joined Facebook in suspending him indefinitely.

Why there’s debate

The board’s choice not to make a final ruling on Trump’s status, and instead shift that responsibility back to Facebook, was met with a combination of eye rolls and frustration from across the political spectrum.

Many prominent conservatives, including Trump himself, railed against the board for at least temporarily upholding what they see as an unfair ban that infringes on free speech. No company, they argue, should have the power to block someone as important as the former president from communicating with the public. The decision also reignited familiar accusations that social media companies are biased against conservative views.

Critics on the left say Facebook and the oversight board have tangled themselves into a logical pretzel in order to avoid reckoning with the clear reality that Trump should be banned permanently. Trump’s continued refusal to accept the results of the election, they argue, would inevitably lead to more violence and threats to democracy if he’s able to once again use Facebook to spread his disinformation to millions of people.

Others say Trump’s account is merely a symptom of Facebook’s broken content management policies, and any effort to undo the harm caused by the platform requires much larger reforms than a decision about a single user.

What’s next

It’s unclear whether Facebook will take the full six months to respond to the board, or if the company’s response will even include a final decision about Trump’s account. Trump recently launched a blog where he has begun posting messages similar to what he used to share on Facebook and Twitter. There has also been chatter that he may seek to launch his own social network, but it’s unclear how substantive those plans may be.

Perspectives

Trump will go right back to his old dangerous behavior unless he’s banned permanently

“If Facebook's Oversight Board lets Trump back on Facebook and Instagram, he'll assuredly restart his assault on democracy. And if we let Facebook (or Twitter) off the hook for having let him go so far before they stopped him, they'll do it again, too.” — Adam Conner, NBC News

Banning Trump sets a dangerous precedent

“Facebook should have known better than to believe that it could limit speech on its platform without setting a terrible and thorny precedent, and its management team should have been wily enough to grasp that the requests for suppression it was fielding were not magically going to cease once the company had taken action against Trump.” — Editorial, National Review

Now that Trump is out of office, Facebook has no excuse to allow his behavior

“If Facebook were serious about enforcing its own standards, this would not be a hard decision. The former president no longer gets the ‘head of state’ exception to terms of service. Had the average person spread the same hateful speech that he shared while in office, they would have been bounced from the platform long ago.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

It serves the public interest for public figures to be allowed to express themselves

“It’s no defense of Mr. Trump’s conduct to say that the digital public square shouldn’t suppress speech by political leaders.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

Trump should be allowed back only if he concedes that the election was fair

“Here’s my proposal for Facebook. Tell Trump if he officially concedes the 2020 election, states that Joe Biden won fair and square, and that there was no widespread election fraud, then, ok, maybe we will think about letting you back. Until then, there is nothing to discuss.” — Bulwark columnist Amanda Carpenter

Suspending Trump violates American ideals of free expression

“This … is not the American way. Even foreign leaders agree it’s dangerous to try to silence a former president. … It’s embarrassing when foreign leaders have to lecture Americans on something so fundamental to our bedrock tradition of freedom, civility and tolerance.” — Editorial, Deseret News

Trump’s account status is not a free speech issue

“Providing a microphone and an amplifier for deceit isn't fighting the good fight for free speech. People do, in fact, have a free-speech right to lie in certain circumstances. But no one is entitled to have his or her views spread over Facebook's vast network. It's entirely up to Facebook to decide the rules governing who gets to use the platform it built and how they get to use it.” — Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times

The extra time will make it easier for Facebook to ban Trump

“Long story short: We have to worry about this in another six months. The good news, however, is that's six more months for Trump to fade from relevance, hopefully to the point where the profit motive of letting him back on is not strong enough to overrule the bad press that Facebook would get for doing so.” — Amanda Marcotte, Salon

Facebook should stop imposing its liberal agenda on its users

“None of this is about some objective commitment to norms. It is about enforcing an ideological agenda that protects prominent progressives from criticism while ensuring that Americans — and users around the world — are exposed to only the ‘correct’ kind of groupthink.” — Rachel Bovard, Detroit Free Press

No decision from a social media company can fix toxic online spaces

“Though we might like to think that Facebook, Twitter or other platforms could simply tweak some code to save us from our current predicament … the root cause of political polarization on our platforms is us. And it's not going away until we find a way to solve it.” — Christopher A. Bail, CNN

The real solution is to break up Facebook so its policy decisions are less effectual

“Facebook has grown too powerful and the only fix is to get government legislators to come up with a way to allow more competition and to take impossible decisions out of the hands of too few people. Until then, it’ll be an endless and exhausting game of hot potato, in which no one wins.” — Kara Swisher, New York Times

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