The media is reporting that Donald Trump is planning a full-scale return to social media platforms Facebook and Twitter which banned the former president after posts on his social media accounts played an outsized role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Twitter has already reinstated Trump and media reports indicate that Trump is petitioning Facebook to return as well.
Statement of Yosef Getachew, Common Cause Media and Democracy Program Director
It would be dangerously irresponsible for the social media platforms to restore Donald Trump’s accounts and risk the further spread of disinformation, hate speech, and the potential for real-world violence. The former president proved himself a clear and present danger on social media on January 6th – and in fact well before that infamous day. He utilized Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to assemble and incite the mob of insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol that day with tragic and deadly results.
The insurrection was not built in a day, and the reality is Trump should have been banned from Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms long before he sent that mob down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. Before, during, and after the 2020 presidential election cycle, major social media platforms allowed Trump to spread disinformation, amplify hate speech, and incite violence with impunity despite their existing policies prohibiting this content. For weeks leading up to the insurrection, top executives at these companies ignored repeated warnings of the impending danger and it was only in the wake of that attack on our democracy that the companies acted and banned the former president. But Trump continues to peddle the same dangerous lies that led to January 6th. And at the same time Twitter and Facebook are far less prepared and willing than they were two years ago to combat Trump’s – or anyone’s – election disinformation and hate speech.
Social media platforms undoubtedly played a major role in the tragedy that was January 6th. The companies bear a significant chunk of the blame for what came to pass that day. Rather than profiting from the spread of harmful content and extremism, platforms must understand that they play a huge role in democracy today and must act accordingly. If Trump is to return, at a minimum these platforms must hold him to the same standard as everyone else. But more importantly, social media platforms must consistently enforce and strengthen their existing policies to effectively combat the spread of disinformation, hate, and other harmful content. Without meaningful content moderation, our democracy will continue to be at risk.
Unfortunately we know that platforms cannot regulate themselves and they cannot be blindly trusted to safeguard our democracy. It is long past time for lawmakers and regulators to enact policies that regulate social media business models, which incentivize and proliferate the spread of harmful content online.