Editor’s note: Jessica J. González is Co-CEO of Free Press, a media advocacy organization, and co-founder of the Change the Terms coalition. The views expressed in this comment are their own. View more opinions on CNN.
On Wednesday, Meta justified its decision to restore Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts by saying the risk to public safety had “reduced sufficiently.”
It’s a statement that will haunt meta-executives — and one that ignores the growing body of evidence linking Trump’s rants on social media to real-world political violence.
Earlier this month, a draft report of the Jan. 6 House Special Committee was leaked to the press. The 122-page document, “Social Media & the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol,” concludes that the risk posed by former President Trump on social media “has not abated.”
Meta eventually agreed. When it first suspended Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, the company said its posts about the insurgency “contribute to, rather than mitigate, the risk of ongoing violence.” Facebook’s oversight board upheld the decision, later adding that Trump’s posts — particularly those denying the election results — “created an environment where serious risk of violence was possible.”
The company’s decision to take the platform away from Trump and his allies appears to have had the desired effect. After the former president’s departure from mainstream social media sites, a comprehensive study found that online discussions of election disinformation dropped by 73%.
The select committee’s draft report noted that Trump and his supporters used Facebook, among other social media platforms, to “substantiate his claims of a stolen election and subsequently his calls to come to DC to protest the Jan. 6, 2021 joint session of Congress.” to protest, to follow closely.”
The draft report also condemned Facebook for its “refusal to adequately monitor the spread of disinformation or violent content in stop-the-steal groups, despite their known ties to militia groups.”
Since leaving office, Trump’s views have been out of joint. He continues to spread election lies on his own platform, Truth Social. He has also fueled other conspiracy theories. Recent research by media watchdog group Media Matters for America found that Trump reinforced reports supporting the QAnon conspiracy 65 times during midterms week in 2022, including 50 mentions on November 14 and 15 just before announcing his 2024 presidential candidacy.
That track record should serve as a dire warning to meta-executives who believe they can rein in Trump’s erratic and dangerous behavior. Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said in a blog post on Wednesday that users “should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad, and the ugly — so they can be informed at the ballot box.” able to make decisions”.
He also said the company had introduced “new guardrails” to prevent public figures who have been suspended in connection with civil unrest from continuing to violate its rules, including tougher penalties for repeat offenders and removal altogether for up to two years at a time.
However, guard rails are nothing more than a new public relations distraction unless actually enforced — and Meta has sadly failed to crack down on rule-breakers in recent years, including those who repeatedly spread hate speech and certain disinformation, such as the current one published research by Free Press ahead of midterms 2022. And under its newsworthy content policy, it can create exceptions for the most powerful among us.
In fact, Clegg wrote Wednesday that, as part of its newsworthy content policy, Meta could keep Trump’s posts that violate its community standards in place, so long as the public interest in learning about the statement outweighs any potential harm. It can then restrict the distribution and only make it visible on Trump’s side.
For content that doesn’t violate their Community Standards but “contributes to the type of risk that happened on January 6th,” Meta may remove the “Reshare” button or prevent it from being promoted or endorsed . But such efforts to disable users’ ability to reinforce false content — such as “stop the steal” messages — are not foolproof.
As CNN reported in 2021, pro-Trump groups simply changed their profiles or changed their groups’ names, allowing them to continue using and disseminating Trump’s 2020 election untruths while interfering with permitted Facebook activities.
Basic fairness would dictate that Trump play by the same rules as the rest of us. The patterns show us that violence is not simply ignited overnight; The slow-burning embers of hate and lies Trump has continued to stoke on Truth Social may spark another uprising if they reach Meta’s vast mainstream audience.
Still, Meta still has a chance to learn from its many mistakes, though that window is closing fast. It can begin with ending special exemptions for Trump and other prominent politicians who incite hatred, incite violence, and spread anti-democratic lies.
Free Press has shown a better way forward for Meta and other social media giants through our work with the Change the Terms coalition. This includes adopting and enforcing model policies to reduce hate and disinformation online and prevent actual violence in the real world.
No meta-user – no matter how powerful – should be authorized to use the Company’s services to engage in or assist in any hateful activity. The platform must ensure that toxic hate and disinformation is not present in any language or country where the company does business.
Meta executives bear full responsibility for any real damage that follows Wednesday’s reckless decision. They can no longer claim ignorance of the political violence that can result from allowing a dangerous figure like Trump access to an online megaphone.