Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, on Sunday defended the platform’s decision to maintain former President Donald Trump’s suspension until January 2023, saying the move was “justified.”
“We understand that making a decision like this is controversial, it’s shouted out, if you like, from both sides, from those people who feel that Donald Trump should be back on the platform immediately and from those who say he should be banned forever. It receives criticism from all sides,” Clegg said during an appearance on ABC’s This Week.
Facebook announced on Friday that it would uphold its ban against Trump — imposed shortly after the January 6 Capitol riot — for two years, at which point it will re-evaluate whether restoring Trump’s account poses a “risk to public safety.”
On Sunday, Clegg claimed the decision was not based on taking a political side and that the company aimed to take action “in a way that’s fair, transparent, proportionate in line with our rules and, crucially, is responsive to the comments and criticism that Facebook received when we first suspended Donald Trump from Facebook.”
On January 7, one day after the Capitol riot, the company kicked Trump off of Facebook and Instagram, which it owns. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time that Trump was suspended for using the platform “to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.” The risk of leaving him on Facebook, Zuckerberg said then, was “simply too great.”
Trump had a combined 56 million followers across Facebook and Instagram when he was banned.
Clegg noted that the independent Oversight Board concluded that Facebook was right to suspend Trump but shouldn’t do so in an “indefinite way.”
“We’ve now laid out those penalties and explained why we think in this particular case, the most severe penalty is justified,” Clegg said.
Asked whether Trump’s lies about the election being stolen from him — a mistruth that Trump has continued to peddle as recently as Saturday — would also justify his suspension from the platform, Clegg said the company will not police all speech.
“I don’t think anybody wants a private company like Facebook to be vetting everything that people say on social media for its precise accuracy and then booting people off the platform if what they say is inaccurate,” Clegg said. “We can explain to users that independent fact checkers might find something to be inaccurate. I don’t think they want Facebook to be a sort of truth police.”
Facebook’s decision marked a shift in the company’s rules, which had for many years taken a hands-off approach to political speech and had largely exempted politicians from its policies on acceptable speech.
Less than two years ago, Facebook introduced a policy that said that speech from politicians was newsworthy and should not be policed.