Meta will lift the ban on Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the coming weeks after a suspension that lasted more than two years.
The decision restores the former president’s access to a platform that he used to powerful effect as a campaigner, and could potentially boost his faltering 2024 fundraising. But a Trump return could also lead to more election misinformation on the platform, Democrats warn, since Facebook has a policy of not fact-checking political candidates — and Trump has continued to push the false narrative that he was the true winner of the 2020 election. Trump had been banned by Facebook after violating rules against incitement of violence during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The company said the former president will have to abide by new rules if he decides to post again, but ultimately decided to reinstate him because the public deserves to hear from politicians.
“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,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs and the U.K.’s former deputy prime minister, in a blog post announcing the decision.
“But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform. When there is a clear risk of real world harm — a deliberately high bar for Meta to intervene in public discourse — we act,” he said.
Meta said Trump could face new penalties if he repeatedly breaks Facebook’s rules, including having his content removed and another suspension of varying length depending on the severity of the violation, according to the blog post. The company has also updated its protocol for repeat offenses from other public figures whose accounts have been reinstated following suspensions related to civil unrest.
Trump’s campaign team had petitioned the company to reinstate his account in mid-January, saying that a continued ban would amount to Meta silencing “Mr. Trump’s political voice.”
However, it’s unclear how quickly Trump will rejoin. He has not resumed posting on Twitter since Elon Musk reinstated him in November, and his campaign did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.
However, Trump did post Wednesday to his own social media platform, Truth Social, that Facebook “has lost billions” in value since he was de-platformed. “Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!”
Even if Trump chooses to rejoin, many political observers think it’s unlikely he’ll regain his previous level of influence.
“The big question mark is, are people going to be as interested in him as much this time around,” said Eric Wilson, the managing partner at Republican investment fund Startup Caucus. “We’re seeing evidence that there’s not as much enthusiasm for Trump.”
In making its decision to restore Trump’s account, Meta evaluated several factors, including violent incidents and indicators of civil unrest. The company had initially suspended the president after his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, then extended the ban indefinitely.
In June 2021, Meta set a self-imposed two-year deadline of Jan. 7, 2023, to revisit the ban, based on recommendations from its independent oversight board to set a definite time frame and process for suspensions.
Meta, Twitter and Google’s YouTube all banned Trump for posts inciting violence that were tied to the Jan. 6 insurrection. It wasn’t until he launched Truth Social in February 2022 that he was able to more widely reach his audiences again, although its reach is far smaller, with just 4.8 million followers compared to 34 million on Facebook and 23 million on Instagram.
If Trump does return to Facebook, the impact could be diluted by requirements for Truth, where Trump is obligated to post any social media content six hours before other social media sites until June 2023.
Whatever the effect on the public discourse, Meta’s reinstatement could have an immediate impact on Trump’s fundraising. Without an active Donald J. Trump page, Trump’s joint fundraising committee — his main vehicle for raising political money — has spent just $2.3 million on Facebook ads across nearly a dozen pages since June 2021. That compares to more than $113 million on his main page alone from May 2018 until his suspension in January 2021, POLITICO reported in November.
“Facebook advertising was a big part of victory in 2016, and was a big part of the 2020 reelect, so if Trump were to be let back on Facebook, it would be a big boon to the campaign and advertising structure,” said a Trump adviser who asked to be anonymous to speak more freely.
The political advertising winds have also changed for Facebook in the last two years as well. Facebook and Google have seen their ad-spending share drop since they set restrictions on paid content targeting minors in 2021. And Apple’s iOS privacy changes in 2021, limiting how much apps can track users’ data, have cut into Facebook’s ad revenue significantly.
“Since Trump has been off of Facebook, it’s changed a lot and so the platform has become less effective for online fundraising and list-building, so it’s not going to be business as usual once he does get back on,” Startup Caucus’ Wilson said.
Democrats were unhappy with Meta’s final call, with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) calling it “a dangerous decision.”
“Reinstating former President Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts will only fan the flames of hatred and division that led to an insurrection,” she said in a statement. “The reinstatement of Trump’s accounts show that there is no low Mark Zuckerberg will not stoop to in order to reverse Meta’s cratering revenue and stagnant consumer growth, even if it means destroying our democracy.”
Advocacy groups raised alarms about the potential for more incitement of violence and harm to marginalized groups on the platform.
Wendy Via, co-founder and president of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, a nonprofit focused on combating far-right extremism, said, “Time and time again, we’ve seen Trump’s lies and rhetoric spread hate, incite violence, and undermine democracies. With its nearly three billion active users, Facebook’s move to welcome Trump back shows its willingness to be complicit in the spread of hate and extremism.”
Watchdog group Accountable Tech criticized Facebook for prioritizing its bottom line. “Today, Meta chose to put its own profits above American democracy and the real-world safety of its users,” said Nicole Gill, the group’s executive director, in a statement.
However, free speech advocates applauded the decision. “In weighing the impact on the speech environment, ultimately, it’s better to let his speech back,” said Katie Fallow, senior counsel at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute. “Keeping him off is not going to fix the presence of misinformation on social media platforms.”
Similarly, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was “the right call.”
“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 statement. “The biggest social media companies are central actors when it comes to our collective ability to speak — and hear the speech of others — online. They should err on the side of allowing a wide range of political speech, even when it offends.”
When Twitter reinstated Trump in November, it was largely for different reasons — with Twitter CEO Elon Musk saying the permanent ban of Trump was “morally bad,” and lifting the ban after running an unscientific user poll. However, Trump has yet to reengage on Twitter, saying he’s sticking with Truth Social for now.
YouTube remains the last major social media platform with a suspension on Trump’s account. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in March 2021 the block will be lifted “when the risk of violence has decreased.” A spokesperson for YouTube said the company has no updates on lifting the suspension.
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.