Just over two years after Donald J. Trump’s accounts were suspended from Facebook and Instagram, Meta, the owner of the platforms, said on Wednesday that it would reinstate the former president’s access to the social media services.
Mr. Trump, who had the most followed account on Facebook when he was barred, will “in the coming weeks” regain access to his accounts that collectively had hundreds of millions of followers, Meta said. In November, Mr. Trump’s account was also reinstated on Twitter, which had barred him since January 2021, collectively giving the former president more of a megaphone as he campaigns for the White House in 2024.
Meta suspended Mr. Trump from its platforms on Jan. 7, 2021, the day after hundreds of people stormed the Capitol in his name, saying his posts ran the risk of inciting more violence. Mr. Trump’s accounts on other mainstream social media services, including YouTube and Twitter, were also removed that week.
But Meta, which critics have accused of censoring Mr. Trump and other conservative voices, said on Wednesday it had decided to reverse the bans because it had determined that the risk to public safety had “sufficiently receded” since January 2021. The company added that it would add guardrails to “deter repeat offenses” in the future.
“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs. “But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.”
In a post on the right-wing social network Truth Social, Mr. Trump said a “deplatforming” should “never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving retribution!”
Meta has been at the center of a debate over free speech online and who should have the power to decide what can be posted and what needs to be removed. The banning of Mr. Trump’s accounts was a stark demonstration of the clout of social media platforms and whether they have too much control and influence over public discourse online.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
The coming reinstatement of Mr. Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts was immediately criticized by Democratic lawmakers and misinformation experts, who said the move would allow the former president to spread divisive and inflammatory posts.
“The Capitol community is still picking up the pieces from the Jan. 6 insurrection that Trump ignited, and now he is returning to the virtual scene of the crime,” Representative Jan Schakowsky, a chief deputy whip and a Democrat of Illinois, said in an email statement.
But Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Meta’s decision was “the right call” because Mr. Trump is a leading political figure and the public is interested in hearing him speak. “While the government cannot force platforms to carry certain speech, that doesn’t mean the largest platforms should engage in political censorship,” Mr. Romero said.
It is unclear whether Mr. Trump, who said in November that he was seeking the White House again in 2024, will again become active on Facebook and Instagram. He started Truth Social, in which he has a financial stake and where he is obligated to make his posts available exclusively for six hours before he can share them on other sites, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mr. Trump can post to any site immediately if the messages pertain to political messaging, fund-raising or get-out-the-vote initiatives.
Mr. Trump has not posted on Twitter since the platform reinstated him in November. Truth Social is currently the only social network on which Mr. Trump is active. YouTube has not said whether it will allow the former president back on the platform.
Truth Social and YouTube didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a post on Meta’s blog on Wednesday, Mr. Clegg said the company’s executives preferred to err on the side of allowing more speech across Facebook and Instagram rather than less, even when the posts were “distasteful or factually wrong.”
But Meta is taking steps to prevent future incidents, Mr. Clegg said. Mr. Trump could be subject to another ban for “between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” Mr. Clegg said.
Meta is considering putting other measures in place against those who may not explicitly violate its rules but who contribute to “the sort of risk that materialized on January 6,” Mr. Clegg said. Posts that delegitimize elections or that are related to the conspiracy theory QAnon, for instance, may be “down-ranked” on Facebook and Instagram feeds, meaning they will be pushed down and become less visible.
Meta could also temporarily restrict access to its advertising tools for repeat offenders and remove the reshare button from posts that violate its rules, effectively limiting their ability to go viral. The posts could also be limited from being algorithmically recommended to other users. But the company would still keep posts that violate its rules visible on the account’s page, even as they limit the content from being shared.
When Meta barred Mr. Trump in January 2021, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, said the president’s use of Facebook 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.”
The company removed several of Mr. Trump’s posts regarding the Capitol riot and froze his accounts initially for a period of 24 hours. That was soon extended to “indefinitely.”
Meta has since struggled to explain its process for removing Mr. Trump, or its policies that have separate standards for public figures who violate its rules. Critics have assailed the company for having double standards around certain high-profile figures, saying the biggest decisions largely rested on the whims of Mr. Zuckerberg.
In May 2021, the Oversight Board, an external body made up of international experts, academics and former politicians, found that Mr. Zuckerberg was right to suspend Mr. Trump’s account. But it said the company needed to decide on a specific amount of time for that suspension.
The board said an indefinite suspension for Mr. Trump was “not appropriate” because it was not a punishment clearly set out in Facebook’s user rules. In its ruling, the board asked the company to create clearer guidelines and effectively kicked the decision of how to handle Mr. Trump’s accounts back to Meta’s executives.
In June 2021, Meta said it would suspend Mr. Trump from its services for at least two years and would review the decision by the end of January 2023.
In recent years, Mr. Zuckerberg has handed more control of policy decisions at Meta to Mr. Clegg, a former deputy prime minister of Britain and career politician. In February 2022, Mr. Clegg was promoted to Meta’s president of global affairs, effectively overseeing the company’s most consequential policy decisions.
Though Mr. Clegg has built out a process and team to handle those matters, the buck still stops with Mr. Zuckerberg’s approval. Both have made clear that they are in favor of more speech rather than less, except under the most extraordinary of circumstances.
“The fact is people will always say all kinds of things on the internet,” Mr. Clegg wrote in his post on Wednesday. “We believe it is both necessary and possible to draw a line between content that is harmful and should be removed, and content that, however distasteful or inaccurate, is part of the rough and tumble of life in a free society.”
Michael C. Bender contributed reporting.