Jan 4, 2023 - Technology

Meta expected to decide soon on fate of Trump accounts

Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Meta's looming decision on whether to allow former President Trump back on its apps will set a new precedent for how the Facebook parent company treats politicians and world leaders.

Why it matters: Trump's accounts were indefinitely shut down following the U.S. Capitol siege of Jan. 6, 2021. As he again runs for president, their reinstatement could allow him to run ads via his Facebook and Instagram pages, which have 34 million and 23 million followers, respectively.

Be smart: In previous campaigns, Twitter was Trump's amplifier, but Facebook was his bank.

  • "Trump's strength on Facebook has always been his ability to use the platform for grassroots fundraising purposes," said Kyle Tharp, editor of the FWIW newsletter, which tracks digital politics. "His success there set a new bar for Republican campaigns up and down the ballot."
  • "In addition to removing some minor barriers to his fundraising program, Trump’s return to the platform would greatly increase the size of his current megaphone ahead of a competitive 2024 primary," Tharp said.
  • He also acknowledged that Facebook's efforts to depoliticize users' feeds has made it less effective for campaigns than in previous political cycles.

Catch up fast: Meta initially banned Trump from posting on his Facebook and Instagram accounts for at least two weeks following the Capitol attack, until President Biden's inauguration.

  • Several months later — in response to guidance from Facebook's independent Oversight Board to revisit its decision — the company said Trump's ban would last two years, beginning with his initial suspension on Jan. 7, 2021.
  • At the end of the two-year period, Meta's president of global affairs Nick Clegg said the company will "look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded."
  • A Meta spokesperson told Axios Monday that the company "will announce a decision in the coming weeks in line with the process we laid out."

State of play: Tech accountability groups are urging Meta to keep Trump off its platforms, while Republicans spoke out against the original decision back in 2021 but have been less vocal about it lately.

  • Accountable Tech and Media Matters for America released a six-figure digital and TV ad buy last month for a "Keep Trump Off Facebook" campaign.
  • "If Meta allows him back, it will be giving Trump a green light to push election misinformation, dangerous rhetoric, and extremism to millions of users who would otherwise not have access to his harmful rhetoric," Kayla Gogarty, deputy research director at Media Matters for America, said in a release.
  • "Obviously, Chairman Jordan supports Meta allowing President Trump back on Facebook, and hopes they do so," a spokesperson for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is expected to become chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said.

The big picture: Whatever Meta decides, its choice is sure to become a political flashpoint for the company and its Big Tech peers.

  • A move by Meta to reinstate Trump, as Twitter recently did under its new owner Elon Musk, would be embraced by Republicans, who have for years accused Big Tech firms of bias against conservatives.
  • It would also stir opposition from Democrats and advocacy groups who argue Trump's social media presence is dangerous.

What to watch: If Meta does reinstate Trump's accounts, it could try to add new guardrails.

  • "We told Meta that if and when Trump is allowed back, you need to ensure that he will not cause more violence," Dexter Hunter-Torricke, head of communications for the Facebook Oversight Board, told Axios in November.
  • Hunter-Torricke said Meta could allow Trump back on with certain stipulations, and if Trump violates them, the case could immediately go back to the board for another review.
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