In Brief

Mark Zuckerberg defends Trump position amid staff dissent

Menlo Park

3 June 2020

On Monday, hundreds of Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout over the company's inaction over inflammatory posts made on its platform by Donald Trump. As a result, the company's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg yesterday staged a question-and-answer session with employees.

The session had been scheduled to happen later this week, but was expedited in light of employee dissatisfaction with the company's handling of Trump, particularly in light of his inflammatory posts regarding the George Floyd protests.

Zuckerberg, however, defended his decision to neither censor nor fact-check Trump – a position that contrasts with that taken by Twitter in recent days. Zuckerberg said that his resolution to do nothing was a “tough decision” but “pretty thorough”.

Facebook's position is that Trump has not broken any of its internal policies, arguing that its rule to ban speech that promotes violence does not apply to Trump's now infamous “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post. It argues that Trump's post was a call for “state use of force”, which is permitted under its guidelines.

Zuckerberg said that he had spoken to Trump last week and “used that opportunity to make him know I felt this post was inflammatory and harmful,” but added that “the right action where we are right now is to leave [the post] up.”

The explanation did not wash with many, however, with multiple Facebook staff criticising their employer on personal social media pages.

“Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric,” said Timothy Aveni, a Facebook software engineer who has resigned over the company's kid-glove treatment of Trump.

Vanita Gupta, who leads the National Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was present for the question-and-answer session and said that Zuckerberg “betrayed a lack of understanding”.

Facebook's inaction comes at a time when relations between the social media giants and Trump are tense, with the president having signed an executive order attempting to remove their protection from liability for content posted on their platforms. Trump's order came following Twitter's moves to censor his posts.

Zuckerberg's contentious handling of the issue and questions over the company's role, or lack thereof, as a moderator come in light of the company's recent decision to appoint a new oversight board to rule on cases in which the company has removed user content. Given the new controversy, questions may be asked as to whether the board's remit ought to be expanded.