Former Obama tech adviser says Facebook could give Trump a 'partial reinstatement'

Jon Ward
·Chief National Correspondent
·5 min read
Donald Trump. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: AP)
Donald Trump. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: AP)

Facebook is set to decide on Wednesday whether former President Donald Trump will be allowed to return to the platform following his suspension in January.

But one internet expert said the company could opt for a partial reinstatement — one that would impose restrictions on how he can use Facebook while still allowing him to engage with supporters.

“I actually don’t think he should be reinstated, but I do think there is a partial reinstatement path here that is probably acceptable and viable. I think full reinstatement with no limits is insane,” Michael Slaby, who was chief technology officer on former President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Slaby said that Facebook has the ability and the tools to regulate how Trump uses the site short of an outright ban.

“What tools does he have access to? How often is he allowed to post? Is he allowed to use paid tools to promote misinformation and disinformation? There’s a lot of tools within Facebook now. It is a much more complicated system than Twitter. Which of those tools does he have access to and what are the limits on his use of those things?” Slaby said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.

Slaby, the author of a new book “For ALL the People: Redeeming the Broken Promises of Modern Media and Reclaiming Our Civic Life,” suggested that consequences should be “defined for abuses of those limits” ahead of time.

Trump was suspended from Facebook on Jan. 6, the day that his supporters violently assaulted the U.S. Capitol and attempted to stop the certification by Congress of the 2020 election results. Trump egged on his supporters for months ahead of that day with baseless lies about a rigged election, and then again on Jan. 6 with a speech on the National Mall, where he urged his followers to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell.”

Donald Trump
Trump arriving near the Capitol building to speak at a rally on Jan. 6. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The post that triggered Facebook’s suspension was one in which Trump seemingly celebrated the deadly assault and urged his followers to “remember this day forever.”

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting an insurrection, and a majority of senators voted to convict Trump for the same. Seven Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in the vote, which fell short of the 67-vote supermajority required for a conviction.

Facebook has left the decision about whether to reinstate Trump with the Facebook Oversight Board, a 20-person panel established in 2019. The board is supposed to be independent of the rest of Facebook, and its decisions about posts or users on Facebook and Instagram are binding.

The board includes former politicians, human rights advocates and writers from all over the world.

But the board’s authority extends only over narrow decisions about whether to take down or leave up posts, whether to affix warning labels to them or remove the labels, and whether to uphold a user’s suspension or ban. Katie Harbath, who was public policy director at Facebook for a decade until earlier this year, told Yahoo News that the notion of “partial reinstatement” like the one recommended by Slaby would be something the board could recommend but not require.

The oversight board’s charter says that “when a decision includes policy guidance or a policy advisory opinion, Facebook will take further action by analyzing the operational procedures required to implement the guidance, considering it in the formal policy development process of Facebook, and transparently communicating about actions taken as a result.”

Donald Trump
Then-President Donald Trump with his mobile phone, June 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The Trump decision comes at a time when pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill for lawmakers to enact new regulations to require more transparency from the Big Tech companies. There is also robust discussion in Congress about using antitrust powers to break up some of these companies, including Facebook.

Slaby said he thinks Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is sincere when he says the social media giant wants the government to impose new regulations on his company and others like it. However, Slaby also believes Facebook would like to shape those regulations in a way that benefits their bottom line. “I think they do want regulation because they have more responsibility than they know what to do with,” he said.

Slaby’s new book is a passionate critique of social media and of internet giants such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok that have, in his view, corroded public life and political discourse. It also includes recommendations — delivered with the know-how of an expert — on how to reconfigure the internet with a mix of individual activism, civic engagement, private sector reform and government regulation.

“We feel lost and disconnected … because we misunderstand how the world now works,” Slaby writes. “We fail to grasp that we have been intentionally cut off from each other for the benefit of the media systems and technology platforms that are ostensibly meant to connect us.”

“We live in constant, instantaneous streams of information completely divorced from what came before or what will come after … bound by the instantaneous choices platforms optimize for us in their desire to keep us reading and clicking, with no meaningful context.”

Slaby now runs a company called Harmony Labs that is working on internet reform implementation at the local level.

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