Five questions posed by Facebook’s two-year ban on Donald Trump

On Friday, Facebook announced that it would suspend former President Donald Trump from the social network for two years, until at least January 7, 2023, and said he would “only be reinstated if conditions permit.”

The announcement comes in response to recommendations last month from Facebook’s recently-created Oversight Board. Facebook had hoped that the board would decide how to handle Trump’s account, but while it upheld the company’s initial decision to ban Trump from the platform for inciting violence on January 6, it punted the long-term decision back to executives in Palo Alto.

The news that Trump would be banned from Facebook for another 19 months was meant to provide some answers on the platform’s relationship with the former president—but instead it leaves many open questions.

Who is this decision supposed to please?

Although the announcement provides some actual rules about how politicians can use Facebook—and some guidance on how those rules will be enforced—the decision to ban Trump for at least two years isn’t going to be its most popular one. Advocacy groups like Ultraviolet and Media Matters, who have long pushed Facebook to ban Trump, released statements saying that anything less than a permanent ban is inadequate. Meanwhile, the people who feel any rule enforcement against conservative politicians is proof of anti-conserative bias continue to feel that way, despite lots of evidence that, if anything, the opposite is true.  And it leaves open the possibility that Trump will be Back Online in time for the 2024 election cycle. 

What does “newsworthiness” mean now?

Many platforms, including Facebook, have used a “newsworthiness” exception to avoid enforcing their own rules against politicians and world leaders. Facebook’s announcement comes with some changes to how it’ll use that loophole in the future. First, Facebook said, it will publish a notice whenever it applies the rule to an account. And second, it “will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by anyone else,” when applying the rule, which basically means that determining whether the public interest of a rule-breaking piece of content outweighs the potential harm of keeping it online. 

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