Facebook says that Trump's punishment for inciting a riot at the Capitol on January 6th will be a two-year suspension, and that suspension will only be lifted if he no longer represents a "risk to public safety."
We now get Facebook's conditional, corporate-speak final say on the matter of Trump's ban from the platform, and it sounds like they've spent the last several weeks honing and polishing the language so that they can keep him banned for life. But, technically, the company has decided that inciting a democracy-threatening insurrection deserves a two-year suspension, with caveats.
The two-year suspension penalty is part of "new enforcement protocols" that are explained in a blog post by Facebook's VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg.
"Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols," Clegg writes. "We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year."
"At the end of this period," he continues, "we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded."
Clegg shares the following graphic, outlining the new "heightened" levels of penalty for all public figures when they incite violence or civil unrest:
The decision from Facebook follows a month after the company's new Oversight Board punted the issue of Trump's account shutdown back to them, failing to take one for the team, as it were. It was clearly Mark Zuckerberg's hope that the board would craft a ruling that could be applied in future instances so that the company didn't have to address the thorny issue of censoring the speech of politicians or public figures, but that is now what they've been forced to do.
The Oversight Board said that Facebook had acted appropriately in suspending Trump after the January 6th riot, but it was "not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension." The panel of arbiters gave Facebook six months to "reexamine [the] arbitrary penalty" imposed on Trump, which seemed out of line with the finite penalties that were part of the company's existing policies.
The new policy, Clegg says, still allows for a permanent ban to happen. If and when the company determines it's safe to let Trump broadcast his nonsense again, there will be "a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts."
So, now all public figures have to consider the possibility of losing their Facebook microphone for two years if they do something similarly egregious as telling insurrectionists that they "love" them. And this now ends the policy that Zuckerberg touted throughout Trump's presidency, much to the delight of conservatives, to give all public figures free rein to say whatever the fuck they want.
Clegg says, regarding the Oversight Board and their punt, "we absolutely accept that we did not have enforcement protocols in place adequate to respond to such unusual events" as January 6th. "Now that we have them, we hope and expect they will only be applicable in the rarest circumstances."
The company acknowledges that today's decision is going to upset Fox News and OAN and the former president's upsettingly large fanbase. But, Clegg says, "our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible."
He also further clarifies changes to the company's content moderation policy when it comes to "newsworthiness," which was the reason Zuckerberg always gave for never enforcing the platforms rules with Trump.
The policy states that content will be removed, even if it is newsworthy and/or posted by a political figure, "when leaving it up presents a risk of harm, such as physical, emotional and financial harm, or a direct threat to public safety."
Clegg says the company will try to be more transparent in future when it applies this policy.
"We grant our newsworthiness allowance to a small number of posts on our platform," he says. "Moving forward, we will begin publishing the rare instances when we apply it."
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images