Trump’s return to Facebook will ‘fan the flames of hatred’, say experts and politicians

Democrats and liberal groups deplored decision to revoke ban on former president who incited insurrection but ACLU defends move

Politicians and civil rights advocates have weighed in on Meta’s decision to allow former president Donald Trump to return to Facebook and Instagram, stating that his presence on the platforms will “fan the flames of hatred and division”.

The social media firm has lifted a ban imposed on Trump after the January 6 Capitol attack and will allow him to post again in the coming weeks. Experts in online hate speech say there is no reason to believe Trump will not return to spreading dangerous misinformation and hate speech upon his return.

“Giving Donald Trump access to his Facebook account allows him to once again use his platform as a megaphone to spread misinformation about the integrity of our elections, incite violence and stoke the flames of white supremacy,” said Mariana Ruiz Firmat, executive director of racial justice movement Kairos Action.

Democratic politicians have also spoken out against the decision, with Democratic congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, of Illinois, saying that reinstating Trump “will only fan the flames of hatred and division that led to an insurrection”.

Trump was impeached for inciting the January 6 riot, a deadly attempt to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden in the 2020 election. The events also led to his being banned from a number of major social media platforms, including YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter. The Twitter ban was lifted in November, after the site was purchased by the Tesla owner, Elon Musk. Trump has not tweeted since, although he is active on his own social media platform and would-be Twitter rival Truth Social.

Google, owner of YouTube, did not respond to a request for comment on whether Trump would be allowed to return, but some experts have suggested that the decisions from Meta and Twitter could set a precedent that leads other platforms to follow suit. In a blog post explaining Meta’s decision, its president of global affairs and former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the company’s platforms should be available for “open, public and democratic debate”.

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” he said.

Clegg also said that Trump would be allowed back with new “guardrails” preventing future violations of platform policies. He would, for example, be “permitted to attack the results of the 2020 election without facing consequences” but would face action if he “were to cast doubt on an upcoming election – like, the 2024 presidential race”.

Many have argued that Meta’s decision is largely for financial benefit, as the company has floundered in recent months amid a declining user base and huge expenditures on its virtual reality project, the metaverse. The company lost more than $80bn in market value and laid off thousands of employees in 2022.

“Meta knows the impact of bringing Trump back – the company knows he will turn Facebook and Instagram into a cesspool of hate, violence, and extremism – but it doesn’t care,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America. “Facebook is a dying platform, and Meta will do anything to cling to relevance and revenue – even if that means endangering its users and our democracy.”

Among Democrats, Adam Schiff, a former House intelligence committee chair, said Trump had “shown no remorse [or] contrition” for January 6, and Facebook had “caved, giving him a platform to do more harm”. Schakowsky added: “The reinstatement of Trump’s accounts show that there is no low [Meta chief executive] Mark Zuckerberg will not stoop to in order to reverse Meta’s cratering revenue and stagnant consumer growth, even if it means destroying our democracy.”

Eric Swalwell, like Schiff now barred from the intelligence committee by Republican leaders, said: “We know that [Trump’s] words have power and they inspire, and then the leaders in the Republican party, like Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy, they don’t condemn them. And so when they’re not condemned, they’re a green light and open lane for more violence to occur.”

But there was support for Meta among some civil liberties groups, who have argued that censoring him is a threat to first amendment rights. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “Like it or not, President Trump is one of the country’s leading political figures and the public has a strong interest in hearing his speech.

“The biggest social media companies are central actors when it comes to our collective ability to speak – and hear the speech of others – online. They should err on the side of allowing a wide range of political speech, even when it offends.”

The debate over Trump’s accounts has renewed longstanding arguments that individual corporations and executives at their helm should not have such power to moderate public speech.

“Meta will always prioritize its profits over the safety of Black and other marginalized communities – which is why vital communications platforms that have monumental impact on our everyday lives should not be led by private companies,” said Ruiz Firmat of Kairos. “If we want a digital realm that works for all of us, we must put governance of the internet in the hands of users.”

Meanwhile, Trump used his own platform, Truth Social, to celebrate, writing: “Facebook, which has lost billions of dollars in value since ‘deplatforming’ your favorite president, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting president, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!”


Martin Pengelly in New York and Kari Paul in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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