Meta is once again giving former President Donald Trump full access to its advertising service, showing the company is prioritizing the revenue it will get from Trump — its largest political advertiser in the last five years — over public safety.
On January 25, Meta announced that Trump will be reinstated on Meta platforms “in the coming weeks” — two years after he was suspended for inciting violence on January 6, 2021. Meta has decided that “the risk to public safety,” which it set out as the measure for ending his ban, has “sufficiently receded” — a flawed assessment given Trump’s history of pushing dangerous misinformation.
A Media Matters review of Meta’s Ad Library Report — which gives advertisers’ overall spending totals on ads about social issues, elections or politics — found that Trump and his campaign entities (including fundraising committees and PACs) have spent over $157 million on over 1.1 million Meta ads since 2018, when the company started publicly tracking ad data. Most of this spending, over $113 million of it, ran on Trump’s own page, making his page the largest buyer of political ads since 2018.
Meta is essentially giving Trump free rein of its ad services
While suspended, Trump was allowed to run ads through his joint fundraising committee, but limitations reportedly made fundraising more difficult. Now, Trump’s ability to run ads on the platform will largely be restored, save for a few minor restrictions on his content. As Bloomberg noted, not only will Trump be able to once again rally his combined 57 million followers on Facebook and Instagram, but also “his campaign will be able to buy ads again to raise funds with direct appeals or by capturing users’ contact information to solicit them directly.”
Trump will be subject to the following Meta policy, titled “Restricting accounts by public figures during civil unrest:”
When a public figure’s restriction has expired and they regain access to Facebook or Instagram, they will be subject to heightened penalties to deter repeat offenses. While most new violations will trigger a one-month restriction from creating any content, more serious violations will merit a further 2-year restriction. As always, we may also disable any account that persistently posts violating content, despite repeated warnings and restrictions.
For content that does not violate our Community Standards but that contributes to the sort of risk that led to the public figure’s initial suspension, we may limit the distribution of such posts, and for repeated instances, may temporarily restrict access to our advertising tools. … We may also remove the reshare button from such posts, and may stop them from being recommended or run as ads.
Although Meta may restrict distribution or recommendation of ads and other content in user feeds, that content would still “remain visible on the public figure’s account.” Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, told Axios, “Oblique references to QAnon content, for instance ... is the kind of material that — even if it's done obliquely, and doesn't violate our community standards — we would seek to restrict the distribution of the content and/or restrict his ability to advertise.”
Based on Trump’s previous behavior, he will likely abuse Meta’s ad services and push dangerous misinformation
Meta has long allowed Trump to abuse its ad services, profiting from his harmful misinformation. Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Trump used Facebook and Instagram ads to peddle and amplify misinformation about now-President Joe Biden, as well as baseless accusations that Democrats committed voter fraud.
Even after Trump was banned from Meta’s platform, the company allowed his campaign to buy ads — so long as they were “not posting in his voice” — and continued to profit from his misinformation. Those ads, which yielded profits for Meta and raised funds for the campaign, included claims that Trump was the “true president” even after he lost the 2020 election, and promoted rallies filled with election misinformation.
The company’s decision to lift Trump’s suspension shows that Meta has chosen the revenue Trump's advertising would generate for the company, despite Trump’s history of pushing harmful misinformation in ads, over public safety. As MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle demonstrated, “So make no mistake, when they're talking about, ‘Well, this is about content moderation, maybe it's the right thing to do,’ the almighty dollar is why both sides are keen for this.”