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Should Facebook let Trump back on? A new poll shows a slim majority want to lift the ban

Daniel Howley and Max Zahn
·5 min read
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A Facebook (FB) oversight board is weighing whether to permanently ban former President Donald Trump over his role in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and a new Yahoo Finance online poll shows a narrow majority of people believe the ban should be lifted now.

The survey of 11,698 respondents to an online poll posted on Yahoo Finance earlier this month found that just over 50% believe Facebook should allow Trump back on the platform, while 44% say he should be permanently banned. The remaining respondents offered a variety of other potential options including lifting the ban with a warning that further violations would result in a final permanent ban.

When viewed through the lens of respondents’ political affiliations, though, the difference is far starker. Of the 2,546 self-described Republicans, 77% say the ban should be lifted. Some 48% of the 5,802 independents who responded felt the same. The majority of the 2,162 Democrats, meanwhile, support upholding the ban, with 75% saying it should remain in place.

What’s more, 78% of Democrats and 50% of independents say Facebook took too long in banning Trump. Just 25% of Republicans felt the same.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Target Center, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Target Center, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Facebook initially took action against Trump in the midst of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol during which throngs of Trump supporters crashed through police barricades and stormed the Capitol building where members of Congress were voting to certify the results of the 2020 election. Scores were injured and 5 people died.

As his supporters fought police and vandalized lawmakers’ offices, Trump posted a short video to Facebook telling supporters to go home, but continuing to spread lies about the election results. Facebook took down that video an hour after it was posted citing an “emergency situation.”

The company indefinitely suspended Trump's accounts on Facebook and Instagram on Jan. 7. Twitter (TWTR) permanently banned Trump on Jan. 8.

On Jan. 21, Facebook sent the decision to its newly formed Oversight Board, a panel of judges made up of experts and public figures from around the globe. The board was given 90 days to decide on the ban, meaning a decision is due late in April.

As for whether Facebook should have the power to ban elected officials, Yahoo Finance readers were split, with about 50% in favor of banning politicians and 50% opposed. Seventy-three percent of Republicans believe Facebook shouldn’t be able to ban politicians.

Democrats held the opposite belief, with 80% saying the company should have the right. Independents were split with 51% saying Facebook should be able to ban elected officials and 48% saying they shouldn’t.

Top figures in the tech and legal world have weighed in on all sides with Yahoo Finance in recent weeks over whether Facebook should allow Trump on the platform.

Photo by: Mihoko Owada/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 1/26/21 At least 150 people have been charged by the Justice Department in the riot that occurred at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. STAR MAX File Photo: 1/6/21 The United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was breached by thousands of protesters during a
Trump supporters attack the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Washington, D.C.)

Supporters of the ban point to the violence inspired by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and the amplification it receives on Facebook. Meanwhile, critics of Trump’s removal consider such concerns overblown and stress the importance of an inclusive approach to speech on a platform that plays a central role in the public conversation.

Meanwhile, some observers have questioned the independence of the oversight board, since its members earn six-figure salaries paid by an independent trust seeded with $130 million by Facebook, the New Yorker reported last month.

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, a longtime critic of Trump who mulled a 2020 presidential bid, told Yahoo Finance that the choice lies with Facebook. “Social Media networks are not utilities,” he says. “It’s their decision.”

Laurence Tribe — one of the nation's top constitutional law scholars, who briefly served at the Justice Department during the Obama administration — last month assailed the purportedly independent oversight board as "a dangerous idea" and warned that allowing Trump back on the platform "would be a terrible mistake."

Meanwhile, Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates last month took an opposite view, telling Yahoo Finance that a permanent ban of Trump "would be shame." Such a move would cause "polarization" if users with different political views divide up among various social networks, Gates said.

The question of whether Facebook should permanently ban Trump has drawn intense interest, garnering 9,000 comments during a public comment period solicited by the Oversight Board.

Proponents of a permanent ban include former first lady Michelle Obama and former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos; they both argued that Trump’s role in the January attack on the Capitol illustrated the threat he poses to democracy and forfeited his right to a platform as large as Facebook.

Skeptics of the potential move include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the “management of social media platforms” should not threaten freedom of expression.

Jeff Behrends, the director of Ethics and Technology Initiatives at The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, says observers should evaluate Trump’s potential return to Facebook within its specific context — both the dynamics of the platform and the legitimacy of the decision-making process undertaken by the oversight board.

“It would certainly be a mistake not to think about the way that Facebook amplifies or promotes speech on its platform, and not to think about Donald Trump’s likely future behavior in that kind of environment,” Behrends says.

The decision may prove more important for its test of the credibility of the oversight board, a novel attempt to create internal but independent governance, often dubbed Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” Behrends added.

“There’s a really important question about whether we can take meaningful steps on how to either self-regulate, if that’s what you think is happening here, or create a new external governance model,” he says.

The online survey was conducted using Survey Monkey between March 4 and March 6. Participants were asked to respond to 4 questions, and given the option to provide their own suggestion as to whether Trump should be permanently banned or not.

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Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.