Mounting a comeback for the White House, Donald Trump is looking to regain control over his powerful social media accounts.
With access to his Twitter account back, Trump's campaign is formally petitioning Facebook's parent company to unblock his account there after it was locked in response to the U.S. Capitol riot two years ago.
"We believe that the ban on President Trump's account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse," Trump's campaign wrote in its letter to Meta on Tuesday, according to a copy reviewed by NBC News.
Trump's campaign didn't threaten a lawsuit, as some sources close to Trump thought he would. It instead talked about the importance of free speech and petitioned Meta for a "meeting to discuss President Trump's prompt reinstatement to the platform."
A Meta spokesperson declined to comment about Trump beyond saying the company "will announce a decision in the coming weeks in line with the process we laid out."
Facebook and Twitter banned Trump a day after a mob of his supporters — many of whom have admitted in federal court that they were whipped up by his lies of a stolen election — stormed the Capitol and interfered with Congress as it was counting the electoral votes to certify Joe Biden's 2020 presidential victory.
Facebook ultimately decided to institute a limited ban on Trump that would come up for review after two years, starting Jan. 7 of this year.
Twitter planned a permanent ban, but new owner Elon Musk reinstated Trump's account on Nov. 19 and then criticized the company's previous leadership for the ban.
Trump, however, hasn't yet tweeted.
"Trump is probably coming back to Twitter. It's just a question of how and when," said a Republican who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with Trump about returning to the platform. "He's been talking about it for weeks, but Trump speaks for Trump, so it's anyone's guess what he'll do or say or when."
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Another Trump confidant who also didn't want to be identified speaking about conversations with him said that Trump has sought input for weeks about hopping back on Twitter and that his campaign advisers have also workshopped ideas for his first tweet.
Some advisers said Trump might be limited in posting on other social media platforms now that he has founded his own, called Truth Social. Truth Social declined to comment about any alleged limits, and a spokesman for Trump said the campaign believes he'll be able to return to Twitter as before.
Another Trump adviser, who has spoken with him about Facebook and shared the gist of the private conversation with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said that his campaign believes Facebook will ultimately honor the two-year ban and reinstate him but that it's prepared to engage with House Republicans who control the lower chamber of Congress to advocate on Trump's behalf and pressure Meta. The adviser said Congress is likely to examine Section 230 of the federal law affecting social media companies.
"If Facebook wants to have this fight, fine, but the House is leverage, and keeping Trump off Facebook just looks political," the adviser said, noting that House Democrats like Adam Schiff of California told Facebook last month to keep Trump off the platform.
"Trump has continued to post harmful election content on Truth Social that would likely violate Facebook's policies, and we have every reason to believe he would bring similar conspiratorial rhetoric back to Facebook, if given the chance," Schiff wrote in a letter to Meta signed by three Democratic colleagues.
Trump's plans to expand his social media footprint also speak to the limits of Truth Social's reach. Trump has slightly more than 4.8 million followers on the platform, compared to nearly 88 million on Twitter and 34 million on Facebook.
Twitter and Facebook were the one-two punch of Trump's pugilistic style of campaigning.
Facebook was crucial to Trump's success in 2016, when his campaign used computer programming to tailor ads to viewers' data — called microtargeting — which helped him raise money with small-dollar donors and out-message Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign. An internal Facebook report found that Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads, compared to 66,000 for Clinton, according to Bloomberg News.
But Facebook subsequently changed its rules — including a limitation on high-volume advertising — and Trump's campaign protested. An employee of Trump's 2016 and 2020 campaigns who was not authorized to speak publicly said the changes limited the Trump organization's ability to use Facebook the same way it did in 2016.
Twitter was credited with abetting Trump's political rise, but his freewheeling style came across as unhinged even to many Republicans who started to oppose his Twitter use.
In its report on the Capitol riot, the House Jan. 6 committee repeatedly noted that Trump used Twitter to call people to Washington, D.C., by saying, "Be there, will be wild!" After his supporters sacked the Capitol, the report said, Trump initially refused to use his Twitter account to tell them to leave and instead criticized Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to help overturn the election, enraging the mob all the more.
The next day, Twitter banned Trump permanently. Facebook also instituted its ban that day.
"The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, decrying Trump's "decision to use his platform to condone rather than condemn the actions of his supporters at the Capitol building has rightly disturbed people in the US and around the world."
"We removed these statements yesterday because we judged that their effect — and likely their intent — would be to provoke further violence," Zuckerberg wrote.
Zuckerberg also pointed out that Trump had broken Facebook's rules over the years but that Meta had responded by removing or labeling the posts as violations, instead of banning him, because "the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech."
"But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government," he said.
Facebook then referred the ban to its independent Oversight Board, which upheld it but criticized the company for "the open-ended nature" of the suspension, calling it an "indeterminate and standardless penalty" in a company statement issued May 5, 2021, by Meta's president of global affairs, Nick Clegg. On June 4, Clegg announced the two-year provisional suspension.
"At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded," Clegg wrote at the time. "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."
Trump's campaign noted that the time has elapsed and, in its letter, quoted Clegg as saying in October that "any private company … should tread with great thoughtfulness when seeking to, basically, silence political voices."
"We agree," the Trump campaign wrote in the letter addressed to Clegg, Zuckerberg and Joel Kaplan, Facebook's vice president of global public policy.
"We also believe that a continued ban would basically constitute, in the words of Mr. Clegg, a deliberate effort by a private company to silence Mr. Trump's political voice," Trump's campaign wrote. "Moreover, every day that President Trump's political voice remains silenced furthers an inappropriate interference in the American political and election process."