Could Trump Get His Facebook Account Back?

content-header__row content-header__hed” data-testid=”ContentHeaderHed”>Could Trump Get His Facebook Account Back?Mark Zuckerberg booted Trump earlier this month for inciting a riot. But the former president’s future on the platform will be determined by an oversight board whose recommendations could set a major precedent. 

January 21, 2021

Mark Zuckerberg appears on Capitol Hill in October.Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since early January, the world has not had minute-by-minute access to the pyrexic brain of Donald Trump. That’s because Facebook and Twitter, the only ways the former president knew how to articulate his thoughts and feelings, booted him for inciting a deadly attack on the United States Capitol. For millions in America and around the world, the silence from Trump has been welcome, especially as we attempt to realize our shared dream of not having to think about this incorrigible dipshit on a daily basis. Indeed, with him banished to Mar-a-Lago and unable to sound off online all day, it almost feels like 45 has finally been rendered as irrelevant as he’s always deserved to be.

But not everybody is happy about the ban. Trump’s allies, some of whom have had their own accounts taken away for inflammatory rhetoric, have of course cited it as a marquee example of the “deplatforming” of conservatives by so-called Silicon Valley liberals. It’s not just the MAGA right, though, that has been queasy about the moves. Some, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is no friend of Trump’s, have expressed concern that evicting him set a “problematic” precedent for social media companies. Twitter and Facebook do need to be more responsible for what winds up on their platforms. But, the argument goes, do we really want Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg to be the ones making those decisions?

They’re both sympathetic to the argument. In a thread defending his company’s decision, Dorsey nevertheless worried that suspending Trump’s account set a “dangerous precedent” for the “power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.” But for Twitter, the discussion is moot, at least as it pertains to Trump; it already banned its most prominent and prolific user permanently. For Zuck, who had only committed to locking out Trump until Joe Biden was inaugurated and the transfer of power could not be further jeopardized, it remains an active conversation. Was the company right to kick the president of the United States off the platform, even if he violated its rules and posed a threat to democracy itself? Can it keep Trump out forever?

Facebook doesn’t want to make the decision itself. On Thursday, the company announced it would submit its decision to ban Trump to the independent oversight board it established last year, taking the precedent-setting move out of Zuckerberg’s hands and putting it into those of the “Supreme Court” of Facebook. “We believe our decision was necessary and right,” Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg wrote in a statement. But, Clegg continued, “Many people are understandably uncomfortable with the idea that tech companies have the power to ban elected leaders.” The board took up the case and will have 90 days to decide on it. Trump’s account will remain inactive during that period, but it’ll be up to the oversight body to determine whether he’ll be able to revive it—a matter sure to have an impact on any political future he has planned. The decision, which cannot be overruled by Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook, will also surely set a precedent for Facebook’s handling of world leaders, some of whom have used the platform as a tool for genocide and violent authoritarian crackdowns.

In some ways, this is more waffling from Zuckerberg, who could be accused of punting on one of his most consequential decisions—one that Dorsey was able to make in-house. “Is Facebook passing the buck on this most critical of decisions?” asked Wired’s Steven Levy. “Absolutely.” Looked at more charitably, soliciting a decision from the board, as well as its advice moving forward, could serve as a good check on Facebook’s power, allowing it and other platforms to police harmful content without Zuck drawing the boundaries. “If you believe that ‘Mark decides’ is a bad governance model for the future of speech online,” Evelyn Douek wrote Thursday in Lawfare, “this referral is good news.”

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