Facebook cannot shake its Donald Trump problem.
The social media company announced June 4 a pathway for the former president’s return to his second-favorite platform. Assuming he doesn’t still constitute a “risk to public safety,” Trump will be allowed back on the service on Jan. 7, 2023, two years after his initial ban for inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol.
The new timeline comes after a convoluted back-and-forth between Facebook and the Facebook Oversight Board, an independent advisory body, which criticized the indefinite nature of Facebook’s Trump suspension.
But even though this system is in effect creating processes through which Facebook can punish political actors who misbehave on its services, the outcome represents the company’s inability to deal with Trump, a notorious abuser of site rules, once and for all. Facebook is really just kicking the can down the road.
The new timeline is also conspicuous as it allows Trump the opportunity to campaign via Facebook if he chooses to run for a second term as president. If Trump is allowed back on Facebook in 2023, he would have about two years on the platform before Inauguration Day in January 2025.
Facebook said it will “look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded” before deciding whether or not to reinstate Trump in 2023.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s chief lobbyist, wrote in a blog post on the company’s website that if the former president is reinstated, there will be a “strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in [the] future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.”
But we have also seen broad disagreement between Facebook and its critics as to what constitutes a violation of its site rules. For example, in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, Trump posted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a not-so-veiled threat to deploy military force against protesters. While Twitter took unprecedented action against the same message, simultaneously posted to its platform, Facebook did nothing, sparking outrage from critics, advertisers, and its own staff.
It’s unclear what will be enough to warrant these new penalties if Trump returns to Facebook. Even with all of the company’s flashy new accountability theater.