Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg under fire on Trump’s George Floyd post

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, October 23, 2019.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Facebook employees have spoken out in anger after CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he planned to take no enforcement action against U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial post following the killing of George Floyd.

The staff say the president’s post has no place on Facebook, adding that they’re “disappointed” and “gravely concerned” it has not been removed. At least six Facebook employees have condemned Zuckerberg’s decision on Twitter with comments like “Mark is wrong” and “doing nothing is unacceptable.”

Violent protests have erupted in cities across the U.S. over the last few days after Minneapolis police killed Lloyd, an unarmed black man.

As the protests gained momentum, Trump shared the following message on Facebook and Twitter: “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The phrase was used by a Miami police chief in the 1960s and has been widely interpreted as a violent threat against protestors.

The same post was blocked on Twitter for glorifying violence, with CEO Jack Dorsey taking full responsibility for the decision.

The White House’s official Twitter account later retweeted Trump’s first post with the content that was hidden by the microblogging site for violating its policies. Twitter has now hidden this tweet as well.

The White House account hit back at the company, claiming it “has determined that it will allow terrorists, dictators, and foreign propagandists to abuse its platform.” It included a picture of a post from Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Facebook rules state speech that inspires or incites violence is not allowed on its platform. However, it is allowing Trump’s tweet, which was cross-posted to Facebook, to remain on the platform. The post has been shared over 71,000 times and reacted to over 253,000 times. The message was also overlaid onto a photo shared on Trump’s Instagram account, which has received over half a million likes.

On Friday, Zuckerberg wrote: “I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day. Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric. … But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

He added: “I disagree strongly with how the President spoke about this, but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves, because ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”

Speaking out

Facebook staff made their thoughts and feelings known on Twitter, which is seen as a more open platform than Facebook.

Jason Toff, director of product management at Facebook, said he wasn’t proud of how the company was “showing up,” adding that most of his co-workers feel the same.

Jason Stirman, a design manager at Facebook, said he doesn’t know what to do. “I’m a Facebook employee that completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence,” he said, adding that he wasn’t the only one.

Brandon Dail, a front-end engineer at Facebook, said: “Trump’s glorification of violence on Facebook is disgusting and it should absolutely be flagged or removed.”

David Gillis, director of product design at Facebook, said Trump’s message “encourages extra-judicial violence and stokes racism.” He added: “Respect to @Twitter’s integrity team for making the enforcement call.”

Josiah Gulden, a product designer at Facebook, retweeted Gillis and said he agreed with him. “I’m gravely concerned that if we’re only willing to enforce our standards based on (presumed) intended meaning, and never on apparent meaning, we’re always giving bad actors room to play the ‘I didn’t mean it that way’ card,” he said.  “A very slippery slope.”

Diego Mendes, a product design manager at Facebook, said “Facebook leadership is wrong” and that he has “voiced his concerns internally.”

Trump-Zuck call

Trump and Zuckerberg have spoken over the phone since the riots broke out, according to an Axios report on Sunday. The conversation was reportedly considered “productive” by both sides.

Zuckerberg has pledged to donate $10 million to groups working for racial justice.

He added that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic venture he runs with Priscilla Chan, his wife, has been investing $40 million a year in organizations working to overcome racial injustice.

“Priscilla and I are committed to this work, and we expect to be in this fight for many years to come. This week has made it clear how much more there is to do,” he wrote on Facebook.

Additional reporting by Ryan Browne. 

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