Trump's being reinstated to Facebook and Instagram – here are three things that could happen next
Meta (META) is restoring Donald Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts, just two months after Elon Musk reinstated the former president's Twitter account.
The news was met with disappointment for some, excitement for others, and a resounding uncertainty as to what comes next. Here are three possibilities, according to experts Yahoo Finance interviewed in the hours following the announcement.
Trump could be suspended again
Meta suspended former President Trump in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, during which Trump supporters attempted to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election. The company said that the ban was in response to Trump's "praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol."
Just over a year later, on Jan. 25, Meta said that it would reinstate Trump's accounts because the company's Oversight Board determined that "risk has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out," a company statement said.
"We default to letting people speak, even when what they have to say is distasteful or factually wrong. Democracy is messy and people should be able to make their voices heard," it continued.
And with Trump's running for president again in 2024, Meta faces pressure to reinstate him, said Temple Law School professor Laura Little.
"Whether you think Trump's despicable or not, he's a candidate for public office, so it seems appropriate to provide a vehicle for the public to hear his view," she said. "It should be a big deal if a candidate for U.S. President is denied that. I think it's the right decision in terms of his constitutional rights."
She added: "Legally, it's clear that Facebook and platforms like it are our contemporary public square, but the question of whether to allow him to use the platform is more ambiguous in terms of Jan. 6, where it did appear he was endorsing violence and immediate threats to public safety."
To be sure, there's debate about the extent to which social media platforms are or aren't public squares. And Trump's reinstatement will have strings attached. Meta has said that, though it plans to restore the former president's accounts in the coming weeks, there will be what the company calls "guardrails" in place.
"Like any other Facebook or Instagram user, Mr. Trump is subject to our Community Standards. In light of his violations, he now also faces heightened penalties for repeat offenses... 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," the company said in a statement.
Meta's 'guardrails' could work – but it could get complicated fast
Determining the contours of those guardrails, however, is difficult.
"Meta's not giving up the moderation of threatening speech, but hate speech is much trickier," Little explained. "I think you can characterize much of what Trump has said in his career as hate speech. Regulating hate speech is— to me—one of the most difficult legal questions of our time."
Ultimately, there are opportunities here for content moderation efforts to go wrong, regress to where it's been before regarding Trump, and opportunities to improve those processes drastically, said University of Pennsylvania professor Desmond Patton.
"I think this is a clear example of how there is still more work to be done when it comes to regulating social media," he said. "I want to more fully understand the ways in which Meta will be moderating his content against others. Is the moderation different? If so, in what ways? The real question is what they'll do when the next crisis arises… Has there been a re-imagining here?"
Trump could stick with Truth Social
According to NBC, Trump previously petitioned Meta to restore his Facebook account. But there's no guarantee he'll be active on the social network.
Trump is still financially and contractually entwined with social media platform Truth Social. Though it doesn't exclude him from other platforms entirely, Trump's current agreement requires him to prioritize the social network over others.
According to a May 2022 SEC filing, he is “generally obligated to make any social media post on Truth Social and may not make the same post on another social media site for 6 hours.”
Ultimately, If Trump does return to Facebook and Instagram it will expand his reach, Boston University professor Gianluca Stringhini explained.
"Being reinstated on Facebook and Instagram will allow Trump to reach a broader audience, potentially using these platforms as a funnel towards Truth Social or other alternative ones," he said.
"While I don't think that he will abandon Truth Social for posting his messages, I think that a future Trump campaign will make use of Facebook and Instagram advertising features to reach specific audiences that would not otherwise see his messaging. This could increase the reach of Trump's messaging significantly in the upcoming Presidential primaries and election campaign."
Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks and on LinkedIn.
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