Donald Trump holding MAGA hat

Facebook employees protest company inaction against Trump’s comments

Image credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Facebook employees are publicly condemning the company’s leadership for failing to take action against posts by President Donald Trump, which have been deemed as harmful by Twitter.

Last week, for the first time, Twitter flagged Trump’s tweets for containing false claims. Trump responded with fury to Twitter’s actions, drafting an executive order to tear up a foundational protection for internet platforms. Despite bipartisan criticism of the behaviour of social media platforms, the order is highly unlikely to pass into law.

Twitter has since flagged further comments from Trump – which appear to threaten people protesting racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of officers in Minneapolis – for “glorifying violence”. The tweets remain available, but hidden from view unless deliberately clicked, as Twitter decided that it is in the public interest not to remove Trump's comments entirely.

Facebook has refused to take similar action on its own platform against Trump’s posts containing false claims and threats. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News that it is not for Facebook to be “arbiters of truth” and that the platform is committed to free expression.

Specifically, Zuckerberg explained in a post that while Twitter interpreted Trump’s statement “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” as a threat,  he interpreted it as a warning, which did not breach Facebook’s rules.

Many employees are understood to be dissatisfied with Zuckerberg’s line of reasoning, with some accusing him of applying Faecbook's rules unevenly to avoid provoking Trump. Dozens of staff members were confirmed to be staging a virtual walkout – writing out-of-office email responses explaining their action – and several have unusually taken to social media to publicly criticise the company’s leadership for their inaction.

Andrew Crow, head of design for Facebook Portal, wrote on Twitter: “Censoring information that might help people see the complete picture *is* wrong. But giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless of who you are or if it’s newsworthy. I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen.”

Jason Stirman, a senior member of Facebook R&D team, said: “I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable. I’m a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence. I’m not alone inside of FB. There isn’t a neutral position on racism.”

Ryan Freitas, who leads the News Feed design team, wrote: “Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind.” Jason Toff, a director of product management, claimed in a tweet that “the majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to” feel similarly dissatisfied. Facebook product designer Sara Zhang said that “internally we are voicing our concerns, so far to no avail.” Many other Facebook employees are using Twitter as a platform to publicly criticise Facebook’s inaction.

At least one Facebook employee, Owen Anderson, wrote that he has resigned from Facebook in protest.

A Facebook spokesperson said that the company would allow participants in the virtual walkout to take part without using their leave allowance and said: “We recognise the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our black community. We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership.”

Facebook is in the process of establishing an independent Oversight Board which will act as a sort of supreme court for the platform, making final rulings on what content should and should not be permitted to remain on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram.

A message posted on the Board’s Twitter account said: “There are many significant issues relating to online content that we recognise people want the Board to consider. We’re working hard to set the Board up to begin operating later this year so it can start considering cases referred by users and Facebook.”

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