Donald Trump’s Truth Social posts bode ill for his return to Facebook

As Trump was reinstated, Meta’s Nick Clegg stressed ‘guardrails’ were in place. He could soon find them tested

If Donald Trump’s activity on his Truth Social account is a reliable indicator of what his return to Facebook and Instagram will unleash, then Nick Clegg is going to be busy.

The former US president has used his rightwing social media platform to push baseless claims of election fraud and amplified content related to the QAnon conspiracy multiverse. These were two issues that received a special mention from Clegg, the former British deputy prime minister turned president of global affairs at Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent, as he explained the decision to end Trump’s two-year exile on Wednesday.

Clegg, who presided over the Trump reinstatement process, said content that “deligitimises” an upcoming election or is related to QAnon could be blocked from appearing in other people’s feeds or have the reshare button removed.

He said such content did not violate Meta’s community standards – or content guidelines – but could increase the risk of a repeat of the Capitol riot that got Trump banned in the first place. According to US campaign group Media Matters, nearly half of the posts on Trump’s Truth Social account in the weeks after the US midterm elections pushed election fraud claims or amplified QAnon accounts or content.

If Trump continues in that vein on Facebook and Instagram, then he will immediately hit the “guardrails” that Clegg outlined in his post.

Meta’s founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, recently described his job as a series of body blows: “It’s almost like everyday you wake up and you’re punched in the stomach.” The reappearance of Trump will almost certainly result in further pressure on his solar plexus, judging by reaction overnight. Campaign groups warned it would be inflammatory, with the Anti-Defamation League saying Meta had chosen to “platform bigotry and divisiveness” and that the decision “isn’t a matter of free speech”. If Zuckerberg and Clegg had kept the ban in place, anger from the right of the political spectrum would have been equally loud, of course.

But Clegg was clear that free speech was at the forefront of the decision, saying the public “should be able to hear what their politicians are saying” including a candidate for office such as Trump. This reflects Zuckerberg’s belief that Meta is a champion of “free expression”. Clegg reiterated that in his blogpost on Wednesday, using the opening sentence to state: “Social media is rooted in the belief that open debate and the free flow of ideas are important values.”

The measures outlined by Clegg to limit the threat from content that veers towards “the risk of real-world harm” are largely already in place. These include a repeat offender policy that applies to public figures who have been banned but then allowed to return: if Trump posts further violating content it will be removed and he could be suspended for between one month and two years. The guidelines on restricting election falsehood and QAnon content are an update on the repeat offender policy.

That balance between free speech and real-world harm, and the strength of that repeat offender policy, will be tested when Trump comes back. Although Trump has yet to tweet following his reinstatement to Twitter, he has made clear that he wants to get back on Facebook. In a letter to Meta this month his advisers said the ban “dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse” and should be rescinded.

That argument about distorting and inhibiting the public realm, where everyone has a right to feel safe, would be of interest to Ruby Freeman. The former Georgia election worker was subjected to a “deluge of intimidation, harassment, and threats” and was forced to leave her home after Freeman and her daughter were falsely accused of involvement in falsifying ballots in the 2020 presidential election.

In a Truth Social post this month, Trump wrote: “What will the Great State of Georgia do with the Ruby Freeman MESS? Why not just tell the TRUTH, get rid of the turmoil and guilt, and take our Country back from the evils and treachery of the Radical Left monsters who want to see America die?”

Meta’s community standards on bullying and harassment prohibit “calling for, or making statements of intent to engage in, bullying and/or harassment”. If Trump repeats his Truth Social posts on Facebook and Instagram, another ban – or at least pressure to impose one – looms.


Dan Milmo Global technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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