Meta's policies won't stop Trump from pushing election misinformation ahead of 2024
Once Trump returns to Facebook, he will likely spread the same unhinged election conspiracy theories he’s been sharing on Truth Social
Facebook is reinstating the account of former President Donald Trump two years after he was suspended for using the platform to incite a violent insurrection. Meta’s policies are unlikely to prevent Trump from sharing election misinformation on the platform, and if his recent posts on Truth Social are any indication, that’s exactly what he will do.
On January 25, Meta announced that Trump will be reinstated on Facebook and Instagram “in the coming weeks” — two years after he was suspended for inciting violence on January 6, 2021. After evaluating the current environment according to its Crisis Policy Protocol — an internal framework the company reveals little about — Meta decided that “the risk to public safety” has “sufficiently receded,” which is a blatantly flawed assessment, and that there are no “extraordinary circumstances” that would justify “extending the suspension beyond the original two-year period.”
When announcing Trump’s reinstatement, Meta’s President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg told Axios, “We just do not want — if he is to return to our services — for him to do what he did on January 6, which is to use our services to delegitimize the 2024 election, much as he sought to discredit the 2020 election.” However, according to Semafor, Clegg has indicated that the “accuracy or sentiment” of Trump’s content would not be a “driving factor” in the decision, and when asked by NBC News’ Hallie Jackson whether “an effort by Trump to delegitimize an election by lying about it would lead to another suspension,” Clegg “suggested that it would not, unless it clearly led to ‘imminent and real-world harm.’” Further, Meta reportedly told CNN’s Oliver Darcy that “posts attacking 2020 will be allowed, but posts attacking 2024 are a different story.”
Meta often fails to be proactive, only taking action once crises are already unfolding, until harm is imminent, or until public outcry reaches a fever pitch. Even though CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly admitted that Trump had used Facebook “to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government,” and the company later acknowledged that there was “a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election,” it continued to allow most forms of election misinformation to go unchecked.
In the midst of the 2022 midterm elections, for instance, instead of preventing claims about rigged voting machines and other voter fraud conspiracy theories, the company opted to rely on third-party fact-checkers to flag misinformation, inconsistently labeling misinformative posts while claiming to reduce their spread. Earlier this month, Media Matters reported that right-leaning pages and users were still able to post about and interact with the type of “Stop the Steal” misinformation that congressional investigators found set the stage for the insurrection.
Since his ban from Facebook and other mainstream platforms, Trump has continued pushing election misinformation on his social media platform Truth Social, including repeatedly posting claims about rigged voting machines and amplifying adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. If his posts on that platform are any indication, Trump’s Facebook feed will quickly resemble an incessant stream of election misinformation and grievances about the outcomes of the 2020 and 2022 elections, and Facebook will allow it.
Trump’s unhinged posts on Truth Social called the results of Arizona’s election into question
On November 8, 2022, the day of the midterm elections, Trump fired off a suite of unhinged posts preemptively calling into question the results of Arizona’s election.
- When some vote tabulation machines malfunctioned on Election Day, causing long waits at some polling locations, Trump posted a message to voters, telling his supporters to stay in line before casting their votes and speculated, “They are trying to steal the election with bad Machines and DELAY. Don’t let it happen!” And before any votes were even counted, Trump began to suggest that the machine errors were “familiar” — presumably a shout out to his debunked claims of election malfeasance in the state during 2020. (The Guardian reported Friday that Trump secretly donated $1 million to the discredited election audit aimed at calling into question the results of the state’s 2020 elections.)
- In another post, the former president baselessly speculated that the “so-called Voting Machines” in Maricopa County were not counting votes in heavily Republican precincts, which he claimed had “greatly harmed” gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters, and other Republican candidates. He then called upon the state’s attorney general, Mark Brnovich, to launch a partisan investigation of the election to “save our Country from this Cancer from within!!!”
As votes were counted in Arizona and Trump’s preferred candidates were losing, the former president amped up his rhetoric about “rigged” elections:
- On November 11, Trump said that “Voting Machines in large numbers didn’t work” in Maricopa County on Election Day and claimed that malfunctioning equipment that required voters to wait in line amounted to “a scam and voter fraud, no different than stuffing the ballot boxes. They stole the Election from Blake Masters!”
- Over the next several days, Trump amplified unfounded claims of election fraud to his millions of followers with messages like “Rigged Elections.” He even called for a new election in the state because “Idiot, and possibly corrupt, officials have lost control of the tainted Election in Arizona.”
- On November 14, Trump claimed that an election victory “is slowly, yet systematically, being drained away” from Lake because of fraud. Later that day, he claimed, “Wow! They just took the election away from Kari Lake. It’s really bad out there!”
On Truth Social, Trump has frequently spread the false claim that the 2020 election was “Rigged and Stolen”
In addition to his posts about the midterm elections, Trump has regularly proclaimed that the 2020 election was, in his words, “Rigged and Stolen.”
- In early May, Trump claimed that Democrats’ “biggest LIE, by far, is the results of the Presidential Election. They know it, and so does everyone else!” A few days later, Trump claimed that Dinesh D’Souza’s 2,000 Mules film showed “conclusively that the 2020 Presidential Election was Rigged and Stolen.” (The film's central conspiracy theory of ballot trafficking by “mules” has been thoroughly debunked.)
- During that same time period, in response to allegations that Trump and his team had attempted to tamper with Georgia’s 2020 election, Trump wrote that he had authority to pressure election officials to “find” votes because “as President I am the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the U.S.” He added: “The Election was Rigged and Stolen!”
- Last month, addressing Twitter CEO Elon Musk, Trump claimed that the Twitter Files provided evidence of the “FBI and ‘Justice’ illegally colluding, proving conclusively, in one more very powerful way, that the 2020 Presidential Election was Rigged & Stolen.”
- In just the past week, Trump has praised January 6 insurrectionists as “patriots” or pushed rhetoric about stolen elections in at least 13 posts, including by promoting an election denial book by his lawyer, amplifying numerous debunked claims about fraud in Georgia during the 2020 election, and calling the 2020 election “rigged.”
Despite the January 6 panel’s findings that Facebook acted as a launching pad for the violent attack on the Capitol, fueled by Trump’s election lies on the platform, the company decided to allow the former president back on its platforms, with virtually no guardrails showing it has learned practically nothing since the insurrection.