Facebook announced on Friday that it will extend the suspension of former President Donald Trump to at least two years from when the platform initially froze his Facebook and Instagram accounts on Jan. 7. The company also released new enforcement rules for public figures during periods of civil unrest and ongoing violence. Violators of the new policy can be blocked for one month, six months, one year, or two years, and further rule-breaking behavior that occurs after an account is reinstated will result in heightened penalties, including permanent removal. At the end of Trump’s two-year suspension, Facebook says it will assess whether the accounts could still pose a risk to public safety and may end up extending the penalty until the threat is gone. “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,” wrote Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of global affairs, in the announcement.
Facebook is making several other modifications to its moderation and enforcement policies as well. Perhaps the most significant change has to do with its “newsworthiness allowance,” an exception Facebook makes to content it deems newsworthy even if the post would otherwise violate its standards. Facebook will no longer presume that content posted by politicians is inherently newsworthy, a practice that has shielded Trump and other leaders from moderation in the past. “We will simply apply our newsworthiness balancing test in the same way to all content, measuring whether the public interest value of the content outweighs the potential risk of harm by leaving it up,” Clegg wrote. Facebook pledged that it will begin publicly disclosing the rare instances in which the platform does invoke the newsworthiness allowance. The platform also unveiled details about its strike system, clarifying the statute of limitations for offending posts and instances in which a single strike could lead to an account deactivation, as is the case with child pornography.
Facebook first suspended Trump’s account for 24 hours on Jan. 6 in response to two posts he sent out during the Capitol Riot. One was a post reading, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!” The other was a video addressed to the rioters in which he said, “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.” The next day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the suspension would continue until at least after Inauguration Day due to his belief that Trump was intent on undermining “the peaceful and lawful transition of power.” After the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Clegg said that Facebook was referring Trump’s suspension to the company’s independent Oversight Board, a group of 20 academics, activists, and journalists that makes rulings on controversial moderation cases and functions as a sort of supreme court for the social network. Last month, the Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s initial decision to block the former president in the midst of the riot, but also found that issuing in indefinite suspension without clear enforcement guidelines was inappropriate. The board demanded that Facebook come up with a clearly defined penalty, suggesting options like a “time-bound” suspension period or permanent removal from the platform. After Facebook announced the details of its “time-bound” penalty on Friday, the board tweeted that it was reviewing the decision.
In contrast to Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat permanently banned Trump’s accounts in January. YouTube has indicated it will allow Trump back on the platform once the threat of violence has subsided, and Twitch indefinitely disabled his account. Trump began using a knock-off Twitter platform that was made for his website in May, but it left a lot to be desired, as he was the only person who could post and it was riddled with bugs. After the initial launch, traffic to the blog seemed to dwindle; people were sharing his posts on Facebook fewer than 2,000 times per day. The Washington Post reported that Trump was unhappy that people were mocking his blog. He ended up shutting the blog down on Wednesday, a mere 29 days after it had started.