Just days after pulling the plug on his hilariously under-appreciated performance art exhibition masquerading as a "blog," former President Donald Trump received a bit of conditionally good news on Friday, with a surprise announcement from Facebook suggesting he could regain access to his account there, shuttered for his encouragement of the January 6th insurrection, just ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
The social media juggernaut's decision to leave the door open for Trump to return comes shortly after the company's oversight board effectively punted on whether or not the former president's ongoing ban should remain in place indefinitely. Instead of ruling directly, the oversight board returned the decision to the company itself, temporarily maintaining the suspension, but ordering Facebook to reassess its criteria for forcing people off their platform for good.
That reassessment seemingly concluded today, with Facebook's announcement that "we believe [Trump's] actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols." Therefore, the company continued, "we are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year."
And what will happen on January 7, 2023, just as the next presidential election starts to heat up?
At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.
In other words, to make it back on Facebook just in time for his still-theoretical but highly anticipated run for a second term as President, all Trump has to do is be slightly less overt in his endorsement of violent insurrectionists and right wing attempts at overthrowing the government. So long as he just lays low, it seems, he could be resume sharing whatever nonsense comes to his at-that-point-76-year-old brain before we know it. Which isn't to say Trump would have unrestricted posting privileges should he be allowed back into Facebook's cold, cruel embrace.
"When the suspension is eventually lifted," the company wrote in a press release accompanying its decision (notice the "when" instead of "if" here), "there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts."
Put another way: "Don't do it again, sir. This time we mean it!"
Despite the fact that Facebook has essentially opened the door for his return to the most powerful communications platform in the history of this planet, Trump responded to the announcement with his typical grace and humility.
Because nothing shows the sort of soul searching and personal growth Facebook is looking for quite like suggesting you'd sic tens of millions of your supporters to "win" against the "abuse" of not being allowed to do bad posts.
Oh, and then he followed that up with, uh, whatever this is:
Threatening one of the richest people in the world with not having to eat dinner with you after your still-unannounced run for a second term? That's some 19th dimensional chess, folks.
Clearly understanding that they are in a no-win situation, at least as far as optics is concerned, Facebook acknowledged the awkwardness of their decision, writing:
We know today’s decision will be criticized by many people on opposing sides of the political divide — but our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible, in keeping with the instruction given to us by the Oversight Board.
Which is all to say that one of the most powerful institutions on the planet has successfully managed to kick this extremely stupid can down the road for a few more years of peace and quiet, while giving a "hey, it's not our fault!" excuse in the process.
So mark your calendars: January 7, 2023. One way or another, it's gonna be quite the occasion.