The decision could also send wider ripples through Silicon Valley, giving Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms cover to maintain their own bans or impose new ones.
Even before the verdict came down, some critics raised issues with how it was reached.
In the lead-up to the announcement, a Facebook-critical watchdog group calling itself the “Real Facebook Oversight Board” said any ruling on the case would inevitably be a public relations stunt “that deflects attention from the real harms of Facebook’s algorithm and business model.”
“Facebook’s Oversight Board is a Facebook-paid, Facebook-appointed body created by Facebook to use to launder its most politically sensitive decisions,” the watchdog group wrote. “Whatever the ruling on Donald Trump, insurrectionists, racists, authoritarians and conspiracy theorists continue to run wild with no plan to stop them and no clear line on what will get them banned.”
Facebook isn’t the only platform to ban Trump — Twitter and many other websites took the same steps, in response to the same concerns — but its deferral of the final choice to a third party is unique. (Twitter, which was Trump’s soapbox of choice while president, has opted to permanently suspend him.)
Neither is Trump the first public figure to get “de-platformed,” or kicked off social media, in an effort to deprive him of algorithmically supercharged audiences. The practice has emerged as a particularly contentious front in the debates over social media moderation that swept through Congress during the Trump years.
Far-right ideologues such as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, Trump confidant Roger Stone and a handful of other internet-savvy conservative provocateurs have all been banned by some combination of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Less direct de-platforming campaigns have also targeted broad groups including the QAnon conspiracy and the far-right Proud Boys.
But Trump, a sitting head of state at the time of his bans, is perhaps the biggest case study yet in what de-platforming means in an era when politics happen as much online as off.
“De-platforming works,” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. Trump’s de-platforming was important because it deprived him of the megaphone he’d previously used to incite anti-lockdown protests and the “Stop the Steal” campaign, not to mention the Capitol riot, she said.
In addition to cutting off access to monetization tools and supporters’ contact information, Beirich added, de-platforming “causes the ability to recruit to fall off a cliff. In other words, you no longer have access to … millions and millions of people, billions in the case of Facebook, to recruit into your space.