WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Facebook removed an 18-minute video of Donald Trump being interviewed by his daughter-in-law Lara Trump under a policy banning content posted "in the voice of" the former president.
Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram pulled the video Wednesday night shortly after it was shared by Lara Trump, who invited him on her show, "The Right View." It was Trump's first on-camera interview since leaving office.
An email from a Facebook employee to Lara Trump explained that the content was removed because it violated the company's ban on Trump.
"In line with the block we placed on Donald Trump's Facebook and Instagram account, further content posted in the voice of Donald Trump will be removed and result in additional limitations on the accounts," read a copy of the email Lara Trump posted on social media.
It's not clear that the company disapproved of the substance of the video. Trump rehashed claims about the 2020 election, criticized President Joe Biden's handling of the southern border, attacked social media companies and teased a 2024 presidential run.
In an appearance on Fox & Friends, Thursday, Lara Trump lashed out at Facebook for censoring the former president. "I think the message here is they want to erase Donald Trump," she said. "Every American should be outraged by this because today it's Donald Trump; tomorrow it could be you."
Lara's husband, Eric Trump, vice president of the Trump Organization, tweeted that Facebook's policy was "an absolute slap in the face to 75 Million Americans."
Freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Col., called out the social media giant, saying, "It’s time to deal with big tech censorship."
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., denounced the social media bans as "un-American" and tested Facebook's enforcement by posting a clip of the interview on his personal Facebook page. As of Thursday afternoon, it was still available.
Facebook reportedly sent an earlier email explaining that its policy prohibiting material "in the voice of President Trump" specifically applied to "all campaign accounts and Pages, including Team Trump, other campaign messaging vehicles on our platforms, and former surrogates."
Lara Trump, who was a 2020 Trump campaign surrogate, also became a paid contributor to Fox News earlier this week. She also acknowledged getting the on-camera interview because she "called in a favor" from her father-in-law.
In a statement to Sinclair Broadcast Group, Facebook's policy communications director Andy Stone clarified that the ban on Trump "does not impact news coverage."
That approach is similar to Twitter's Trump ban, which threatens to penalize or permanently suspend accounts that try to circumvent the prohibition.
Facebook and Twitter were joined by YouTube and Snapchat in expelling Trump from their platforms following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The companies argued that Trump had used the platforms to incite violence and spread misinformation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained at the time that "the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great."
Before instituting the ban, Facebook faced public and internal opposition for refusing to remove some of Trump's more controversial posts under the company's policy permitting "newsworthy" content, even if it breached other community standards.
While many Trump critics supported the bans and felt they were long overdue, others were unsettled by the ability of a small handful of powerful corporations to effectively silence a former U.S. president.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law scholar and professor at George Washington University Law School, wrote that the move by Facebook "is an obvious attack on free speech, including political speech." He continued, "It is not his view but Trump himself that is being canceled by the company."
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders recently expressed concern about the implications of the social media ban during an interview for "The Ezra Klein Show" podcast.
After unleashing on Trump as "a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, a pathological liar, an authoritarian," Sanders added, "I don't feel comfortable" that "the then-president of the United States could not express his views on Twitter."
Lee Pierce, an assistant professor of rhetoric and communication at the State University of New York (SUNY) Geneseo, argued that there was a public interest in suspending Trump for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and for his statements around the Capitol riot. But it's "concerning" that any media company has so much control over what is or isn't seen by the public, she noted.
"Now, I think they're going too far because you can't ban everything 'in the voice of Trump.' That's not public interest, that's just pure censorship," Pierce said. "We censor information. We censor facts. We don't censor people... It's an ethical issue. You go after the argument, not the person."
Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans are wary of the power and influence of Big Tech. Across political ideologies, Americans believe overwhelmingly that social media companies have too much influence on what people see. Nearly three-quarters believe they intentionally censor political viewpoints they find objectionable.
"In our society, I don't think we're generally comfortable with a blanket ban on speech—particularly when they're public figures or former political officials," said Mike Horning, an associate professor of multimedia journalism at Virginia Tech.
Twitter has taken a hard line in permanently banning the ex-president. Facebook could decide to allow Trump back on the platform. The Facebook Oversight Board, a group of outside experts and academics appointed by the company, is adjudicating the ban and is reportedly preparing to announce its decision.
Even if Facebook permanently removes President Trump, its problems with misinformation, hate speech and incitement will not go away. "The larger question is there's a real divide in the country about certain policy issues and trump brings out those divisions," Horning noted. "Until we figure out how to reconcile some of those, I think the problems may emanate in other public figures besides Trump himself."
In the interview with Lara Trump, the former president indicated that he was doing fine without social media and believed sending out official press releases was "more elegant." Trump bashed Twitter as "boring" and social media in general as "fake" and teased the possibility of starting his own social media network.
"I think there's room for something and I bring a lot of people with me. But we'll see," Trump said, boasting about having 200 million social media followers before his accounts were shut down.
Former Trump campaign advisers have said the president could launch a platform sometime in the next three to four months. Corey Lewandowski told Newsmax it would be a direct outlet to the president and a way to "communicate in a free format without fear of reprisal or being canceled."
Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said he expects the president will rack up tens of millions of followers on his site. "This is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media. It’s going to completely redefine the game, and everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does," he told Fox News.
Critics have questioned Trump's ability to pull off the gambit. Starting an alternative social media platform is costly and has proven difficult for even the toughest tech entrepreneurs. Moreover, sites like Parler and Gab, which branded themselves as free speech platforms, have faced corporate blacklisting after their sites were tied to the violent insurrection at the Capitol and other illegal activities.
Trump launched an official website earlier this week to promote his administration's legacy and advance the "America First agenda." The former president has said he plans to host rallies and play a role in the 2022 midterm elections. He has also repeatedly suggested he will run for president again in 2024 but has not filed any paperwork.