Four months after his ouster from Facebook and Instagram, former president Donald Trump will learn Wednesday whether he can reconnect with tens of millions of followers or be permanently barred from both social media platforms.
A return to Facebook would be a boon for outreach and fundraising should Trump run for president again in 2024. In 2016 and in 2020, Trump tapped Facebook to energize his base and raise campaign cash.
Whatever the decision from Facebook’s quasi-independent Oversight Board, it is certain to unleash a wave of fury, either from conservatives who’ve accused the nation’s leading technology companies of censoring Trump or liberals who say the former president’s election falsehoods still present a dangerous threat.
“From Twitter’s pre-election decision to bury the New York Post article on Hunter Biden, to postelection bans of then-President Donald Trump, to the deplatforming of Parler, tech companies are flexing their muscle as an unelected arbiter of what Americans can – and cannot – see,” Douglas Blair, an administrative assistant for communications at The Heritage Foundation, wrote last month.
The conservative group said Tuesday that it rejected six-figure donations from Facebook and Google in 2020 and pledged to no longer accept financial support from Big Tech companies “as long as they continue to suppress conservative viewpoints.”
Ahead of the determination from the Facebook Oversight Board, NAACP National President Derrick Johnson called Trump “one of the single greatest threats to American democracy in modern history.”
“We have been pushing the Facebook Oversight Board to do what is right to protect the people and the country the former president endangered,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
“We will be watching as the decision is announced tomorrow morning. Facebook has the opportunity to end the era in which it fuels extremism, division and insurrection.”
Observers who have closely followed previous rulings from the Oversight Board say there’s strong possibility that it will rule in Trump’s favor.
Trump lost his direct link to supporters when he was booted from the nation’s top social media platforms following the Capitol attack. He has relied instead on a patchwork of press releases and personal messages, television interviews, emails and robocalls to reach supporters.
He has also talked of starting his own social media platform. On Tuesday, he launched a web page, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” which will eventually allow him to be in direct touch with his supporters.
The Trump ban is the most consequential case yet for the Oversight Board, with far-reaching political implications for the nation. The board’s decision could also influence how other social media platforms treat the speech of world leaders in the future.
Facebook froze Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. At the time, Facebook said two posts praised the attack in violation of the company’s rules.
Zuckerberg accused Trump of trying “to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden” and said the suspension the day after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol was necessary to reduce the risk of violence up until Biden’s inauguration.
The company then referred the final decision on Trump’s suspension to its oversight board.