Protocol | Policy

Facebook will suspend Trump for at least two years

The timing could diminish Trump's role in the 2022 midterms — but not the 2024 presidential race.

An illustraion of Donald Trump

Facebook revised its suspension of former President Donald Trump, limiting it to two years with a possible extension.

Photo: The White House/Protocol

Facebook on Friday announced it would limit former President Donald Trump's suspension to two years after its semi-independent Oversight Board criticized the indefinite nature of the ban the company imposed in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

In a company blog post, Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, said the new suspension period is for actions that "constituted a severe violation of our rules," adding that the suspension could be extended if "there is still a serious risk to public safety" such as instances of violence or other civil unrest when it is set to expire.

The two-year period began with the original suspension, on Jan. 7, and would theoretically end in time for Trump to launch another run at the White House in 2024 — a possibility that loomed over the initial ban and the board decision to review it.

Trump, who encouraged violent supporters attempting to overturn his loss in the election, could also face a permanent ban under a "a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions" that will come into force if he returns.

Facebook announced the new measures on Trump's account as its response to the board's concerns about its initial decision on Trump. The board upheld Trump's suspension at the time, but said a permanent ban was inappropriate. It also recommended changes to the way Facebook handles content, particularly from prominent, influential and political accounts and pages.

The board called on Facebook to "address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made." During the board's deliberations about Trump, Facebook said it had not applied its so-called "newsworthiness" exception, which was reportedly created in part in response to Trump's own incendiary remarks. In considering the Trump case, the board took issue with Facebook's policy, arguing the company shouldn't have special rules for certain influential users.

As part of Friday's response, Facebook said it would begin publishing notices when it leaves up content that violates its policies because of the newsworthiness of the post. The company said it "will remove content if the risk of harm outweighs the public interest," and that the "newsworthiness" factor will apply equally regardless of whether the poster is a political figure. The pronouncements of government officials do tend to be more newsworthy in practice.

The decisions on newsworthiness could begin to remake the relationship between Facebook and world leaders. The latter have relied on social media for governing messages and campaigns, including sometimes threatening or hateful posts. The risk of social media regulation in the U.S., for instance, has increased thanks to Republican lawmakers who already say they're being silenced by Facebook and other tech giants.

"We know today's decision will be criticized by many people on opposing sides of the political divide," Clegg wrote, "but our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible."

Trump, who was also removed from Twitter, has sought other ways to get his message out to the public, including through a short-lived blog that his team both unveiled and removed in May. A senior aide, Jason Miller, suggested Trump was working on other forms of online presence.

Several of the board's other recommendations had to do with bringing more transparency to the company's content moderation decisions. Board members asked Facebook to publicly explain the rules regarding account suspensions, to clarify its system of using strikes and other penalties before taking action on an account and to inform users of the number of strikes on their accounts.

Facebook also said on Friday that in the future, it would publish the criteria for the strike system it uses to punish accounts that have violated its rules. That way, users will "know what actions our systems will take if they violate our policies." Facebook said that whether it applies strikes to users would depend "on the severity of the content, the context in which it was shared and when it was posted," with all strikes expiring after a year.

This could be a particularly meaningful change, and not just for Facebook's more famous users. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, right now, users who land in "Facebook jail" often have little recourse to get out of it, or indeed an understanding of why they got suspended in the first place. That's an issue for influential accounts, but it's even more challenging for regular users, whose account suspensions rarely receive the high level of attention that Trump's has.

Facebook said it had fully implemented 15 of the 19 recommendations from the board, but it sidestepped one of the most pointed proposals: The board had requested that Facebook undertake a comprehensive review of its role in exacerbating political tensions leading up to the Jan. 6 riot. Facebook said of the matter that it would "continue to cooperate with law enforcement and any US government investigations related to the events" and expand its research into the effect of Facebook and Instagram on elections.

"Ultimately, though, we believe that independent researchers and our democratically elected officials are best positioned to complete an objective review of these events," Facebook said in an extended response. The company is now extending its existing research project with outside academics, giving them access to data through February 2021.

Facebook also said it was assessing the feasibility of a separate board recommendation regarding its quarterly transparency reports. Right now, Facebook only publishes information on how much content it removes for policy violations, but the board also asked Facebook to include data about profile, page, and account restrictions, as well as where those restrictions are taking place. The company said some of the data, particularly on location, might be unreliable with malicious actors.

The board said in a tweet that it was reviewing Facebook's updates and would "offer further comment once this review is complete."

Protocol | China

Beijing meets an unstoppable force: Chinese parents and their children

Live-in tutors disguised as nannies, weekday online tutoring classes and adult gaming accounts for rent. Here's how citizens are finding ways to skirt Beijing's diktats.

Citizens in China are experienced at cooking up countermeasures when Beijing or governments come down with rigid policies.

Photo: Liu Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

During the summer break, Beijing handed down a parade of new regulations designed to intervene in youth education and entertainment, including a strike against private tutoring, a campaign to "cleanse" the internet and a strict limit on online game playing time for children. But so far, these seemingly iron-clad rules have met their match, with students and their parents quickly finding workarounds.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at shenlu@protocol.com.


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Facebook wants to kill the family iPad

Facebook has built the first portable smart display, and is introducing a new household mode that makes it easier to separate work from play.

Facebook's new Portal Go device will go on sale for $199 in October.

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Facebook is coming for the coffee table tablet: The company on Tuesday introduced a new portable version of its smart display called Portal Go, which promises to be a better communal device for video calls, media consumption and many of the other things families use iPads for.

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Protocol | Policy

The techlash is threatening human rights around the world

Some 48 countries introduced laws to regulate tech last year. But researchers say many of those laws are just attempts at censorship and surveillance.

In its latest report, Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz said, "We really see free expression and privacy as under unprecedented strain."

Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Governments around the world are seizing on widespread frustrations with Big Tech as justification for a spate of increasingly restrictive laws governing online speech, a new report finds, a trend that researchers say puts both free expression and the fate of tech companies' overseas employees at risk.

Over the last year alone, some 48 countries worldwide introduced — and in some cases, passed — laws to regulate tech companies, according to the latest report by Freedom House, a nonprofit that publishes an annual survey on internet freedoms in 70 countries. While those laws have often been passed in the name of promoting competition, protecting people's data and moderating offensive content, the report's authors say that, in many cases, these laws are merely thinly veiled attempts to force companies into censorship and surveillance.

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Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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