Former president Donald Trump could soon make a return to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and reach the massive audiences on each, now that the companies behind those platforms have restored access to his accounts.
But that could just be the start. The decisions by Twitter and now Facebook-parent Meta to bring back Trump could push — or at least provide cover for — a number of other platforms to make similar moves.
Facebook and Twitter restricted Trump’s accounts in the aftermath of the January 6 attack. The bans were seen as necessary by tech executives, and indeed many on Capitol Hill, believing Trump could use their platforms to incite further violence.
Many other platforms followed suit by banning or restricting Trump, including YouTube, Snapchat and game streaming platform Twitch. Shopify, an e-commerce company, removed two stores associated with Trump, and digital payments provider Stripe said it would stop processing payments for Trump’s campaign. In some cases, platforms restricted channels or content that was associated with the then-president, if not directly affiliated — Reddit and Discord, for example, banned pro-Trump groups on their platforms.
The net effect was that Trump, or at least his accounts, essentially vanished or went silent across the mainstream internet. Trump’s digital exile pushed him to launch his own social media platform, Truth Social. His media company even teased plans to create rivals to other online services, including Stripe. (Trump has not said whether he will resume posting from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; he is believed to have some form of an exclusivity deal with Truth Social’s parent company to post there.)
For now, some of these other companies appear to be sticking with their policies. On Wednesday, Snapchat parent Snap indicated that it is not planning to revisit its decision to ban Trump’s account two years ago.
“In January 2021, Donald Trump’s Snapchat account was terminated for violating our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines,” a Snap spokesperson said in a statement to CNN. “According to our Community Guidelines, if your account is terminated for violating our Terms of Service or the Guidelines, you are not allowed to use Snapchat again.”
But for other platforms, Meta’s ruling this week could add to the pressure many had already been facing to reconsider their bans after Trump announced he’d seek a third bid for the White House in 2024 and new Twitter owner Elon Musk gave him back his account.
“Usually these companies do fly in a flock and whoever makes the first movements, other companies do tend to try to, in succession, follow behind because the initial company takes the biggest media hit and then the rest of them don’t suffer the reputational hit of being the first technology company to make a decision,” Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, told CNN earlier this month.
A YouTube spokesperson told CNN Wednesday that the company currently had “nothing to share” on whether the company is or plans to consider reversing its suspension. Shopify, Stripe, Discord and Reddit did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the possibility of following Meta and Twitter’s leads and reversing their bans.
A new model for handling Trump and world leaders
When Musk announced the decision to reinstate Trump’s Twitter account in November, shortly after completing his acquisition of the company, it came with little explanation beyond Musk’s previously stated desire for freer speech on the platform. Musk conducted an informal poll of his followers and more voted in favor of restoring the account than not.
Meta’s decision, by contrast, could provide a new set of precedents for platforms on how to handle Trump and other world leaders who violate their rules.
In announcing its decision on Wednesday, Meta laid out “new guardrails” for how it will handle possible rules violations by Trump if he opts to return to Meta’s platforms. In short: yes, Trump can get suspended again, but a permanent ban no longer appears to be on the table.
“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” Clegg said. He added that the new, harsher penalties for repeat violations will also apply to other public figures whose accounts are reinstated following suspensions related to civil unrest.
For content that doesn’t violate its rules but “contributes to the sort of risk that materialized on January 6th, such as content that delegitimizes an upcoming election or is related to QAnon,” Meta may limit distribution of the posts, Clegg said. The company could, for example, remove the reshare button or keep the posts visible on Trump’s page but not in users’ feeds, even for those who follow him, he said. For repeated instances, the company may restrict access to its advertising tools.
If Trump again posts content that violates Meta’s rules but the company determines “there is a public interest in knowing that Mr. Trump made the statement that outweighs any potential harm,” Meta may similarly restrict the posts’ distribution but leave them visible on Trump’s page.
The new policy may still require Meta’s leadership to make significant, subjective decisions about what content is potentially harmful public safety at large, but the rules could act as a model for how other platforms could bring back the former president without appearing reckless.