Facebook has extended former President Donald Trump’s indefinite ban into a two-year suspension that will end January 7th, 2023. It will then reevaluate Trump’s ban to “assess whether the risk to public safety has receded,” Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, announced Friday. If Trump is reinstated and violates Facebook’s rules again, the company will implement a “strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions” that could lead to a permanent ban.
The suspension accompanies a broader change in how Facebook treats “newsworthy” posts that break its rules and speech by politicians. The social network will still allow some violating content that is “newsworthy or important to the public interest” to remain online. But as The Verge reported yesterday, it will begin publishing the “rare instances” when the newsworthy exemption is applied. And going forward, politicians will be subject to the same content rules as other users, a sharp reversal from Facebook’s previous policy that mostly shielded elected officials from such enforcement.
“When we assess content for newsworthiness, we will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by anyone else,” Facebook’s Clegg wrote in a blog post. “Instead, 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.”
Facebook executives previously maintained that speech from politicians was inherently in the public interest and that private companies shouldn’t intervene except in the most exceptional circumstances. That position allowed Trump and other elected leaders to use the platform in ways that normal users would be penalized for under Facebook’s content rules. By opening up politicians to potentially harsher moderation going forward, the company could further anger governments that have already begun to threaten tech companies for censoring political speech.
In a statement to The Verge on Friday, Trump called Facebook’s ruling “an insult” to his supporters who voted in the “rigged” presidential election, adding that the company “shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing.”
Facebook made the changes in response to a request from the Oversight Board — a group of human rights experts it funded to make judgments on controversial content decisions. The board asked Facebook to review its recommendations on clarifying the status of Trump’s account, along with changing the way it treated politicians differently from other users.
In response to the board, Facebook also disclosed more about its secretive strikes system for content that violates its rules but doesn’t warrant an immediate suspension. Receiving enough strikes can lead to an account being permanently banned, but Facebook hasn’t detailed how strikes work before because it was afraid doing so would lead to people gaming the system. While the details about strikes are still vague, Facebook disclosed some key details, including that you can receive a strike for approving violating content on a page you manage, and that all strikes expire after one year.
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