Meta will reinstate Donald Trump to Facebook and Instagram “in the coming weeks”, in a polarising move that will hand back a vital platform to the former US president ahead of his 2024 bid for the White House.
Trump, whose use of social media helped him secure the presidency in 2016, has been suspended from Meta’s platforms for the past two years after praising a group of his supporters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 2021.
However, the $371bn social media company will now allow his return, saying it had put “new guardrails in place to deter repeat offences”, according to its president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, who has overseen the decision.
“The public should be able to hear what politicians are saying so they can make informed choices,” Clegg said.
The reinstatement could give Trump a new megaphone to reach his followers as he begins his campaign for the presidency in 2024, which has gotten off to a rocky start. The former president has 34mn and 23mn followers on his Facebook and Instagram accounts respectively, even though he cannot currently post.
It is unclear if and when Trump, who has launched his own fledgling rival social media platform, Truth Social, will actually return. His account on Meta rival Twitter was reinstated in November by the platform’s new owner Elon Musk, but he has yet to post on it.
“FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since ‘deplatforming’ your favourite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account,” Trump wrote on Truth Social following the announcement. “Such a thing should never happen again to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution.”
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung told Fox News Digital last week that Facebook was “an important tool for the 2024 campaign to reach voters through advertising, grassroots mobilisation and fundraising”.
In 2021, Trump was suspended “indefinitely” the day after the Capitol riots for what Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg described as his decision “to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government”.
That suspension was upheld by Meta’s oversight board, a Supreme Court-style body made up of outside academics and experts that assesses challenges to the company’s moderation decisions. However, the board took issue with the lifetime ban, ordering Meta to revisit its decision within two years.
Trump’s return to the platform will probably be welcomed by Republicans who argue that social media platforms have been suppressing free speech and deliberately targeting conservatives, claims the companies deny.
However, Meta’s decision will irk Democrats and online safety experts who warn that Trump’s rhetoric can translate into real-world harm.
It comes as social media platforms continue to try to navigate how to treat controversial speech and demands from politicians and global leaders.
On Wednesday, Clegg said that Trump faced “heightened penalties” for future offences. For example, if he posts further rule-breaking content, he will be suspended for “between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation”, Clegg said.
Meta might also seek to limit the reach of posts by Trump that are not necessarily rule-breaking but that contribute “to the sort of risk that materialised on January 6”, and prevent them from being shared, recommended or run as adverts, Clegg added. This includes content that “delegitimises an upcoming election” or is related to QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory.
Clegg said that Meta had evaluated the situation, including “looking at the conduct of the US 2022 midterm elections, and expert assessments on the current security environment” to assess whether the risk to public safety had receded since Trump’s initial suspension.
“Our determination is that the risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out,” he said.