Facebook plans to announce Wednesday whether former President Donald Trump’s indefinite suspension from its sites after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will be made permanent. The platform is using a reasonable process to decide: The ruling will come from a quasi-independent oversight board made up of lawyers, scholars and others appointed by the company.
Of course, Trump’s supporters within the GOP will go ballistic if the board rules that he should be permanently banned. Their noise deserves to be ignored. There is no constitutional right for a president or anyone else to use a private company’s platform to incite violence.
To review the facts: After losing the Nov. 3 election by 7 million votes, Trump fulfilled his self-predicted behavior and refused to accept the legitimacy of the vote. His campaign’s claims of massive fraud were turned away in dozens of courtrooms for the simple fact that there was not one shred of evidence of fraud. Trump maintained his big lie anyway, bolstered by allies like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who forced a Senate showdown over the usually routine process of certifying the vote.
The powder keg thus positioned, Trump lit the match, whipping up thousands of supporters rallying near the Capitol to “stop the steal,” “fight,” “take back our country” — and specifically urging them to “walk down to the Capitol” where the vote certification was taking place. The mob stormed the Capitol, contributing to several deaths and breaching America’s seat of government for the first time since the British did it in the War of 1812. Trump was initially silent, ignoring the pleas of those around him to talk the protesters back. When he finally, grudgingly called for peace, he laced his statement with more lies and compliments to the rioters (“We love you”).
Trump’s promotion of the lie that started it all was achieved primarily through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Twitter banned him permanently for violating its user terms against incitement to violence. Facebook indefinitely banned him for the same cause.
Hawley has been the chief promoter in Congress of another big lie: that enforcement by social-media platforms of such user policies is tantamount to “censorship” and a violation of First Amendment rights.
As a former constitutional law professor, he certainly knows better. Censorship is by definition the forced suppression of expression by a government or other instrument of authority. Trump, like anyone else, still has the freedom to spew all the lies he wants, but private companies aren’t obliged to let their properties be used to advance those lies.
Facebook should make Trump’s banishment permanent, as he’s shown every indication that he’s not finished with endangering democracy and will resume his efforts if he can. But whatever the company decides, it should be the company’s decision.