Since the day after the deadly January 6 riots on Capitol Hill, former President Donald Trump’s social media accounts have remained silent – muzzled for inciting violence by using the platforms as online megaphones.
On Wednesday, his fate on Facebook, the largest social platform of the moment, will be decided. The company’s quasi-independent supervisory board will announce its decision at around 9 a.m. ET. If it votes in favor of Trump, Facebook has seven days to reactivate the account. If the board confirms Facebook’s decision, Trump will remain suspended “indefinitely.”
Politicians, free speech experts and activists around the world are watching the decision closely. This has implications not only for Trump, but also for tech companies, world leaders, and people across the political spectrum – many of whom have extremely conflicting views on the proper role of tech companies when it comes to to regulate online speech; and to protect people from abuse and misinformation.
After years of dealing with Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric with a light touch, Facebook and Instagram made the drastic decision to shut down its accounts in January. In announcing the unprecedented move, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the risk of allowing Trump to continue using the platform was too great.
“The shocking events of the past 24 hours make it clear that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time to undermine the peaceful and legal transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page in January. 7.
A day before the announcement, Trump unveiled a new blog post on his personal website, “From Donald J. Trump’s Office.” While the page includes a dramatic video claiming, “A BEACON OF LIBERTY IS ARRIVING” and hailing “A PLACE TO SPEAK FREE AND SAFE,” the page is little more than a display of recent statements by Trump – available elsewhere on the website – which can be easily shared on Facebook and Twitter, the platforms that banned it after the riot.
While Trump aides spent months teasing his plans to launch his own social media platform, his spokesman Jason Miller said the blog was something separate.
“President Trump’s website is a great resource for finding his latest statements and highlights from his first term, but it’s not a new social media platform,” he tweeted. “We will have more information on this in the very near future.”
Excluded from social media, Trump has embraced other platforms to get his point across. He frequently interviews sympathetic news outlets and has e-mailed scores of statements to journalists through his official office and political group.
Trump has even said he prefers the statements to his old tweets, often describing them as more “elegant.”
Facebook created the Watch Panel to rule on thorny content on its platforms following widespread criticism of its difficulty in responding quickly and effectively to disinformation, hate speech and harmful influence campaigns. So far, its rulings – all nine – have tended to favor free speech over restriction of content.
In its first decisions, the panel overturned four of the social network’s five decisions to remove questionable material. He ordered Facebook to restore posts from users who the company said violated standards on adult nudity, hate speech or dangerous individuals.
Facebook critics, however, fear that the Supervisory Board is a mere distraction from the company’s deeper problems – issues that cannot be addressed in a handful of high-profile cases by a panel of semi-public experts. independent.
“Facebook sets the rules, is judge, jury and executioner, and controls its own appeals court and its own Supreme Court. The decisions they make have an impact on our democracies, national security and biosecurity and cannot be left the theater of the absurd on their own, ”said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit critical of Facebook. “Whatever the judgment tomorrow, this whole fiasco shows why we need democratic regulation of Big Tech.
Gautam Hans, an expert in technology law and freedom of expression and professor at Vanderbilt University, said he found the structure of the Supervisory Board “frustrating and a bit removed from political and social issues. broader than we have about these companies ”.
“To some extent, Facebook is trying to create an accountability mechanism that I think undermines efforts to have government regulation and legislation,” Hans said. “If another company were to decide, well, we’re just going to outsource our decision-making to a quasi-independent body, that would be considered ridiculous.”
Associate Press Editor Jill Colvin contributed to this story.