Re-platforming Trump on Facebook Is a Grave Threat to Democracy; “He Has Put Down the Dog Whistle and Picked Up a Bullhorn”
Meta Can Still Act to Protect Its Users, Even if The Oversight Board Wouldn’t; RFOB Members Weigh In on Dangerous Precedent if Trump is Allowed Back On
24 January 2023 — As Meta continues to debate whether or not to allow former President Donald Trump back on its platforms, the Real Facebook Oversight Board issued the following statement for attribution:
Since former President Trump was banned from Facebook and Instagram in early 2021, his behavior has gotten significantly worse — not better — and more extreme. He has put down the dog whistle and picked up a bullhorn, spouting dangerous rhetoric about race, religion, COVID and the 2020 election. He can’t stop spouting the big lie, just today using Truth Social to spread the fiction that the Georgia election was stolen. His calls to violence and hatred have only increased, and Brazil’s recent attempted coup shows the continuing and corrosive reach Trump has on democracy and civic discourse.
This is not a person who should be given a platform.
This moment — whatever the ruling — also reflects another failure for Meta’s Oversight Board, who is ceding responsibility for a critical decision back to Meta. In 2021, the Oversight Board and Meta took a victory lap and reaped positive headlines, claiming that the company’s so-called independent oversight board had ‘banned’ President Trump. It was never a ban — it was always a punt, 18 months down the road, to now. This shows the fecklessness of the Oversight Board, whose most important decision is already being relitigated, without their input. The Oversight Board has swung and missed on their biggest single decision to date.
Re-platforming Trump would show that Meta doesn’t care about its own rules or terms of service, or protecting its users from disinformation. Meta has already opened up Mar-a-lago-sized loopholes, allowing Trump to fundraise and advertise on their platforms (Details here) These are ways Meta has allowed him to continue using its platforms, making the “ban” hollow to begin with.
Still, the risk of President Trump personally on Meta’s platforms cannot be understated: Someone who has previously used these platforms to spread disinformation and foment violence having the real-time ability to post is extremely dangerous. What will Meta do the first time he claims the 2020 election was rigged?
“Meta’s decision on whether to reinstate former President Trump’s account will have serious ramifications for the future of online hate, harassment, and our very democracy,” said Yael Eisenstat, Vice President of the ADL Center for Technology and Society and a member of the Real Facebook Oversight Board. “Given Trump’s history peddling the false narrative that the 2020 election was ‘stolen,’ and his continued lifting of conspiracy theories, the right choice seems obvious. Meta should not allow former President Trump back onto its platforms.”
“Donald Trump has consistently tried to undermine our elections process and the peaceful transfer of power through a series of dangerous lies and the repeated urging of violent behavior by his followers. These actions and words seek to undermine the basic norms of our democracy as well as our broader societal fabric,” said RFOB Member and Executive Director of Common Sense Media Jim Steyer. “Moreover, they threaten the long term-well being of our children and our broader civil society. Trump’s behavior and language have gotten significantly worse and more extreme since he was first suspended from the Facebook platform. Permitting him to return now would be a serious affront to our democracy and to Meta’s own publicly declared standards. Common Sense should once again prevail, and the ban should be made permanent.”
Whether he uses the platforms or not, a reinstatement by Meta sends a message that there are no real consequences even for inciting insurrection and a coup on their channels. Someone who has violated their terms of service repeatedly, spread disinformation on their platforms and fomented violence would be welcomed back.
We stand with our members and partners in urging Meta to keep Trump off Facebook. A reinstatement takes a rare, principled stand — that there are lines that can’t be crossed — and tosses that away.
Real Facebook Oversight Board members are available for interviews. Statements do not reflect the individual positions of all Real Facebook Oversight Board Members. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This post will be updated with quotes from RFOB members.