The news that Meta will allow Donald Trump back on Facebook and Instagram following a two-year ban has been met with fury and indignation among civil rights and online safety advocates.
The former US president will be allowed to return to the platforms “in coming weeks” but “with new guardrails in place to deter repeat offences”, Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, wrote in a blogpost explaining the decision on Wednesday.
The Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Free Press, Media Matters and other groups expressed concern about Facebook’s ability to prevent any future attacks on the democratic process or quell misinformation.
“Make no mistake – by allowing Donald Trump back on its platforms, Meta is refuelling Trump’s misinformation and extremism engine,” said Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of media watchdog Media Matters for America.
“When Trump is given a platform, it ratchets up the temperature on a landscape that is already simmering – one that will put us on a path to increased violence.”
Trump was removed from Meta platforms after the Capitol riots on 6 January 2021, during which he posted unsubstantiated claims that the election had been stolen, praised increasingly violent protesters and condemned former vice-president Mike Pence even as the mob threatened his life.
Democratic congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said reinstating Trump’s accounts “will only fan the flames of hatred and division that led to an insurrection”.
“The Capitol community is still picking up the pieces from the January 6th insurrection that Trump ignited, and now he is returning to the virtual scene of the crime,” she tweeted.
In a statement explaining the decision to allow Trump to return, Clegg said: “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.”
“In the event that Mr Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Trump should not be given a platform to “spread hate and incite violence”.
“There is no reason to believe the former president will behave differently now that the platform has reversed his ban. This isn’t a matter of free speech; there are ample services that Trump can use to spread his message. This is a business decision to platform bigotry and divisiveness to drive clicks and engagement, plain and simple.”
Free Press Co-CEO Jessica J. González, described the announcement as a “cowardly and unethical decision” that “will cause incalculable harm”.
She urged Meta to reverse course and said Trump would only continue to use the company’s “powerful tools” to “spread lies and dangerous rhetoric, and incite violence targeted at disenfranchised communities and his ideological enemies”.
“Meta must bear full responsibility for any harm that results from today’s extremely reckless decision,” González said.
Meta initially outsourced its decision about whether to remove Trump permanently to its oversight board: a group of appointed academics and former politicians, that operate independent of Meta’s leadership to scrutinise the company’s moderation decisions.
That group ruled in May 2021 that Trump’s penalties should not be “indeterminate”, but kicked the final ruling back to Meta, and played no role in his readmission to the platform.
Nicolas Suzor, a professor at Queensland’s University of Technology School of Law and member of the Oversight Board, told the Guardian that the announcement “follows through on [Meta’s] commitments to us to develop clear and accountable processes in high profile cases like this”.
“Many other tech companies have not done this work (or have gone backwards recently) and their senior executives still make decisions behind closed doors that impact us all.”
However, a group of scholars, advocates and activists calling itself the Real Facebook Oversight Board – operating in opposition to Meta’s board – said the decision, “sends a message that there are no real consequences even for inciting insurrection and a coup.”
Some free speech advocates have agreed with Clegg, saying it is appropriate for the public to have access to messaging from political candidates.
Jameel Jaffer, executive director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and a former American Civil Liberties Union official, defended the reinstatement. He had previously endorsed the company’s decision to suspend Trump’s account.
“This is the right call – not because the former president has any right to be on the platform but because the public has an interest in hearing directly from candidates for political office,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“It’s better if the major social media platforms err on the side of leaving speech up, even if the speech is offensive or false, so that it can be addressed by other users and other institutions.”
American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero said Meta was making “the right call” by allowing Trump back on to the social network.
“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,” Romero said in a release.
The ACLU has filed more than 400 legal actions against Trump, according to Romero.
Trump has not indicated whether he will return to the platform but responded to the news with a short statement on Truth Social, saying that “such a thing should never happen again to a sitting president”.