Elon Musk’s recent takeover of Twitter has left people wondering if bans issued by the previous regime will stand. Arguably, the highest profile ban in Twitter history was that of Donald Trump — but Twitter isn’t the only social media platform the former president can no longer use. The businessman-turned-politician is also banned from Facebook and Instagram. After being banned from pretty much every major platform, Trump went on to found his own social media site.
Truth Social hasn’t really taken off, but that may not matter in a couple of months. Messages sent between Musk and Twitter’s former CEO Parag Agrawal suggest that the company’s new owner intends to reverse all permanent bans that aren’t applied to spam accounts or accounts that have “explicitly advocated violence.” On the flip side, the decision may somehow be out of Musk’s hands. In a bid to quell some of the fears surrounding his takeover, Musk has opted to form a “moderation council” to oversee major decisions that are being made about the platform. Those major decisions include exactly where the line is drawn with regard to free speech on Twitter, and which bans ultimately get overturned.
Musk previously described Trump’s ban as “morally wrong,” so even with the moderation council in place, there is a more than reasonable chance Trump’s Twitter account will be unbanned following the takeover. But Twitter might not be the only mainstream social media platform Trump regains access to ahead of the 2024 election.
Trump was banned from most mainstream platforms
Trump’s social media bans followed the events of January 6, 2021, during which a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to stop the ratification of the 2020 presidential election results. The former president’s social media posts were seen as a key factor in the attack on the Capitol, and Trump was given an indefinite ban from Facebook and Instagram the day after the Capitol riot took place. Twitter made a decision on the status of Trump’s account a day later on January 8 and handed the outgoing president a permanent ban.
The significance of the ban and the events leading up to it was enough to warrant a statement from Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg, who described the events as “shocking” and accused Trump of trying to use his remaining time in office to undermine the democratic process. Describing his justification for the ban, the Facebook founder said: “His decision to use his platform to condone rather than condemn the actions of his supporters at the Capitol building has rightly disturbed people in the U.S. and around the world. We removed these statements yesterday because we judged that their effect — and likely their intent — would be to provoke further violence.”
As strongly worded as Zuckerberg’s statement was, his company actually let Trump off lighter than some of its rivals. While Twitter opted for a “permanent” ban, Meta’s ban ended up being a little bit more complex. In theory, Trump could have his accounts back two years to the day after the ban was issued, which means he could be posting again in just over two months. But things are still a little bit more complicated than that.
The former president’s Facebook account may be unbanned, too
On January 7, 2023, Trump’s Facebook ban will technically expire, but Meta did put a clause in place to ensure they aren’t ending it too early. On June 4, 2021, Nick Clegg, who was Meta’s vice president of global affairs at the time, released a statement clarifying the terms of Donald Trump’s ban and bans like it. The statement followed Meta’s oversight board’s decision to uphold the former president’s ban but questions its “indefinite” nature. The company refined its policy and introduced a sliding scale for politicians who misuse Meta’s platform during incidents of public unrest.
Less serious offenses can land a one-month ban, with the scale going all the way up to two years. Trump’s ban was placed at the two-year point. The company has also stated further violations after an initial ban can result in permanent restrictions being placed on an account. Trump was mentioned as an example, with the statement saying: “When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.”
However, when Trump’s ban expires, he doesn’t just get his account back. Before Trump can start posting again, officials will “assess whether the risk to public safety has receded.” This assessment includes the examination of “external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest.” If Meta’s panel decides that letting Trump back on the platform is still a risk, the suspension will be extended for another set period of time. So, as with Twitter, Trump has to get past a panel before he can take to Facebook and Instagram again.