Former President Donald Trump will be banned from Facebook until January 7th, 2023, announced the platform last week.
The two-year ban represents the maximum penalty under new rules designed for celebrities and public figures, added the site.
According to the new rules, posts from politicians will no longer be considered “newsworthy by default.” What this means is that politicians will be held to the same standards as everyone else.
The policy is a complete reversal from Facebook’s former stance on political speech, notes Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, pointing to a 2019 policy defining political speech as “newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.”
In terms of the ban on Trump, Facebook will continue working with experts to “evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly, and other markers of civil unrest,” says Clegg. “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.”
The way I see it, the real threat to public safety is Facebook itself.
The site was recently found to be running an algorithm that identifies and deletes content promoting vaccine hesitantly even if that content is true.
Last week, the site reversed a ban on posts suggesting COVID was man-made after President Joe Biden urged federal investigators to “redouble” their efforts to determine the origin of the virus and noted that some investigators believe the virus escaped from a lab.
In reversing the ban, Facebook is admitting that it stifled free speech.
Facebook’s decision to ban Trump following the January 6th riot at the US Capitol earned criticism from lawmakers of both parties and from leaders throughout the world – including those who oppose Trump.
Even the platform’s Oversight Board thinks the ban was too extreme.
“What we are telling Facebook is that they can’t invent penalties as they go along. They have to stick to their own rules,” explains Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Danish Prime Minister who serves on the board. “We will only get rid of this talk that Facebook is leaning towards certain political opinions when we get to a stage when all decisions on Facebook and Instagram are taken with transparency and clarity and where all users are judged by the same standard.”
In May, the Oversight Board asked Facebook a series of questions related to its ban on Trump and urged it to be more transparent on how it enforces it rules.
Facebook refused to answer at least seven of those questions, including how the platform’s algorithms may have amplified the reach of Trump’s posts in the days leading up to the riot.
“Our decision says that you cannot make such an important decision, such a serious decision for freedom of expression, freedom of speech, without the adequate context,” says Thorning-Schmidt.
If Trump is granted access to Facebook after the two-year ban, he will be at the mercy of the site’s partisan rules and subject to a “strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions” including a permanent ban if he violates those rules.
In an emailed statement, Trump described the ban as an “insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us” and said Facebook “shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing.”
Lawmakers from both sides agree Facebook needs to be reigned in, but are unsure how to do so without violating Constitutional rights and/or breaking the Internet.
Could Facebook’s growing power and censorship be the start of the Orwellian future Microsoft’s President has warned could arrive as soon as 2024?