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Why the new decision on Trump's future on Facebook matters

The longer the door to Facebook is closed to Donald Trump, the more it affects his political future.

After years of Donald Trump using social-media platforms to poison the discourse, Facebook decided in January that the Republican had simply gone too far. After the then-president incited an insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, the planet's largest social-media company decided to suspend Trump's account to Facebook and Instagram.

The former president hoped that Facebook's Oversight Board would reverse the decision, restore Trump's account, and deliver a dramatic boost to the Republican's online presence. As NBC News reported, that's not what happened.

Facebook was justified in banning then-President Donald Trump from its platform the day after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, but it needs to reassess how long the ban will remain in effect, the social network’s quasi-independent Oversight Board said Wednesday.

"Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump's accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7," the board said in its decision. The panelists added that Trump "created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible" by his obsessive lying about the 2020 presidential election.

Today's announcement, however, isn't necessarily the final word on the subject. The Oversight Board's assessment, which is not binding on the company's executives, also encouraged Facebook to make a determination about Trump's future on the platform within six months.

That said, if the company suspended Trump for pushing dangerous anti-election lies, and the former president continues to regularly push dangerous anti-election lies, it's difficult to imagine how Facebook will ever justify welcoming him back. The Big Lie is now at the heart of his political messaging, and he's not about to surrender it.

Just as important is the fact that the Republican's indefinite absence from Facebook is likely to have meaningful effects on Trump's future. Axios reported yesterday that the former president's confidants see Facebook as "the linchpin" to his fundraising and online political strategy.

While Trump is known for his connection to Twitter, Facebook has always been central to his campaign strategy. His team used the social network relentlessly in 2016 and 2020 to raise money and energize hardcore supporters.... Trump and his aides have publicly minimized the political consequences of him being kicked off these platforms.... Behind the scenes, though, the reality is they're anxious to be re-platformed — and on Facebook especially because of its superior power as a fundraising tool.

In theory, with the door to Facebook apparently closed, Trump could try to leverage his new "communications platform" as an alternative, but since it's really just an underwhelming blog, that's not a realistic solution to the former president's online troubles.

Update: Trump responded to the news in predictably hysterical fashion, saying in a statement that the social-media giant "must pay a political price" for enforcing the company's rules in a way he doesn't like. He added, "Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left are afraid of the truth."

First, Trump isn't president. Second, the "radical left" is singular. And third, the former president's free speech rights remain intact, whether he runs afoul of social-media companies' terms of service or not.