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Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Revolt Against CEO Zuckerberg’s Defense Of Free Expression
In this photo illustration, the Facebook logo is displayed on the screen of an iPhone in front of a TV screen displaying the Facebook logo on December 26, 2019 in Paris, France. The American company Facebook created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg builds technologies that give people the power to connect with friends and family, find communities and grow businesses. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
Chesnot/Getty Images

Hundreds of Facebook employees are in “virtual” revolt over CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to follow the lead of Twitter’s Jack Dorsey in censoring President Trump’s social media posts. After Twitter began for the first time to “fact-check” Trump’s tweets last week, Zuckerberg said in a lengthy statement posted on his platform Friday that while he is personally “struggling” with the question of how to address the issue, he is ultimately “the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

“I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” Zuckerberg wrote in the Facebook post Friday (full text below). While the CEO stressed that he “disagree[s] strongly” with some of what Trump says, he still believes people should be allowed to judge the president’s statements “for themselves,” because “ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”

As reported by The New York Times on Monday and revealed in various social media posts from Facebook and Instagram employees, Zuckerberg’s position on the president’s posts has sparked an internal revolt, with “hundreds” of employees protesting Zuckerberg’s decision not to take any action on Trump’s “inflammatory” posts.

“Many of the employees, who said they refused to work in order to show their support for demonstrators across the country, added an automated message to their digital profiles and email responses saying that they were out of the office in a show of protest,” the Times reported. “The protest group — conducting a virtual ‘walkout’ of sorts since most Facebook employees are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic — was one of a number of clusters of employees pressing Facebook executives to take a tougher stand on Mr. Trump’s posts.”

Along with the “out of the office” virtual walkout, some disgruntled Facebook employees have “circulated petitions and threatened to resign,” the Times reports.

Others have posted critical statements online. A few examples of employees expressing their dissatisfaction with current Facebook policy, including Facebook’s News Feed Director of Product Design Ryan Freitas Facebook’s Portal R&D head Andrew Crow, and Instagram employee Katie Zhu:

While Facebook has come under increased fire from the left since Trump was elected, the social media giant has also been frequently criticized over the years from the right for apparent left-leaning bias. As CNN Business points out in its report on the internal revolt, “workers walking out over how the company handles Trump’s posts certainly won’t help Facebook defend itself against the perception its staff leans liberal.”

The day after Twitter first fact-checked Trump’s tweets, the president issued an executive order on “preventing online censorship” (archived link to order).

“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet,” reads the order, issued by Trump Thursday.

“Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse,” Trump’s order asserts. “Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms ‘flagging’ content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse. Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias.”

Trump’s order encourages federal regulators to reexamine Section 230, a more than two decades-old law providing broad liability protection to online platforms for what is posted on their sites while also allowing the platforms the ability to decide what is allowed to be posted.

Below is the full text of Zuckerberg’s statement on the debate over how to handle the president’s posts:

This has been an incredibly tough week after a string of tough weeks. The killing of George Floyd showed yet again that for Black people in America, just existing means risking your life. This comes weeks after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and in the midst of Covid having a disproportionate impact on the Black community in the US. It continues a long and devastating history of human loss going back centuries. I know the conversations happening amongst our Black friends, colleagues and neighbors are incredibly painful. As Americans, this affects all of us and we all have an obligation to help address the inequality in how justice is served. This is something I care deeply about.

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. This moment calls for unity and calmness, and we need empathy for the people and communities who are hurting. We need to come together as a country to pursue justice and break this cycle.

But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression. I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies. We looked very closely at the post that discussed the protests in Minnesota to evaluate whether it violated our policies. Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force. Our policy around incitement of violence allows discussion around state use of force, although I think today’s situation raises important questions about what potential limits of that discussion should be. The President later posted again, saying that the original post was warning about the possibility that looting could lead to violence. We decided that this post, which explicitly discouraged violence, also does not violate our policies and is important for people to see. Unlike Twitter, we do not have a policy of putting a warning in front of posts that may incite violence because we believe that if a post incites violence, it should be removed regardless of whether it is newsworthy, even if it comes from a politician. We have been in touch with the White House today to explain these policies as well.

There are heated debates about how we apply our policies during moments like this. I know people are frustrated when we take a long time to make these decisions. These are difficult decisions and, just like today, the content we leave up I often find deeply offensive. We try to think through all the consequences, and we keep our policies under constant review because the context is always evolving. People can agree or disagree on where we should draw the line, but I hope they understand our overall philosophy is that it is better to have this discussion out in the open, especially when the stakes are so high. 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.

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