Zuckerberg defends not criticising Trump over violence threat

Civil rights leaders slam Zuckerberg after meeting on Trump posts

As several employees publicly resign in protest, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday defended his inaction on President Donald Trump's controversial posts.

This is consistent with statements he has made in the past about the need for Facebook to take a hands-off approach to content on its site and that the burden should be on users about what to believe.

Company officials also said they removed accounts falsely claiming allegiance to Antifa in order to bring discredit to the anti-fascist movement.

Some of the removed white nationalist accounts were associated with the Proud Boys, which Facebook previously classified as a unsafe group.

Last week, President Trump issued an executive order that aims to curb legal protections that now protect social media companies like Twitter from legal charges.

Last week when Trump posted the comment "when the looting starts, the shooting starts", regarding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he may not have been aware that he had written perhaps his most inflammatory and divisive comment to date. The "cards" were illustrated with images and text reading, "God Bless America", "God Bless, President Trump", and "God Bless The Trump Family".

The Facebook chief held firm even as the pressure on him to rein in Trump's messages intensified.

This week, another Republican who violated Twitter's rules didn't have his tweet removed, but received a public interest notice.

Twitter said it would prioritise tweets with "the highest potential for harm", as part of their new policies on labeling misinformation.

Facebook's policy does not allow for a scenario in which a post promoting violence would be placed behind a warning label, Facebook employees familiar with the policy and its application said.

With Facebook standing at the risk of setting a risky historic precedent, Zuckerberg's talk of racial justice does not seem enough.

In an open letter to their former boss, almost three dozen ex-staffers said the company's policy of allowing political speech to go largely unchecked was a "betrayal of the ideals Facebook claims".


Jason Toff who joined Facebook past year as a director of Product Management pointed to a broader surge in employee activism. "This is more anger and frustration than I've seen before".

Facebook declined to comment on the former staffers' letter to Zuckerberg. A Facebook spokesperson told the company would not silence dissenting voices. The Times reported that many employees staged a virtual "walkout" on Monday over the matter.

The call did little to soothe the feelings of employees.

"We basically concluded after the research and after everything I've read and all the different folks that I've talked to that the reference is clearly to aggressive policing - maybe excessive policing - but it has no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands", Recode reports him as telling his staff.

Zuckerberg has also faced continued public criticism from employees - a highly unusual occurrence for the company. Nor does it instruct independent vigilantes to take action, but encourages state and federal actors to do so. Headley, speaking about the local riots related to the civil rights movement, specifically said: "We don't mind being accused of police brutality ..." Just There is a way to deal with looters and arsonists during a riot and that is to shoot them in sight. In a statement after the call, the directors of the three groups said they were "disappointed and stunned by Mark's incomprehensible explanations for allowing Trump's posts to remain standing".

"He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump's call for violence against protesters", the added.

Similar tweets were put out by other employees.

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, also spoke to Bloomberg News about the call.

On Tuesday, Washington-based advocacy group Center for Democracy and Technology, which is supported by Facebook, Google and Twitter, filed a lawsuit saying the executive order threatens to "curtail and chill constitutionally protected speech" online.

And if his company doesn't merely foster tribalism and polarization, but actually thrives because of those forces - as the internal Facebook study concluded - why would he rush to overhaul anything?

In fact, Facebook and Zuckerberg have explicitly said many times that political figures, especially, but not exclusively, the current U.S. president. He said the president's "looting and shooting" message, which went up on Friday, was immediately spotted by Facebook's policy team.

Facebook certainly seems to be in that position.

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