This story was originally published on June 1, 2020.
Yesterday, dozens of Facebook employees participated in a virtual walkout protesting the company’s inaction toward President Trump’s recent social media posts. On May 29th, Trump responded to protests against the police killing of George Floyd by tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” This offensive phrase supports the use of police brutality and was originally used by Miami police chief Walter Headley during the civil rights movement in 1967. Trump’s tweet provoked understandable outrage, and Twitter flagged it as a violation of its rules. The tweet is now hidden under a notice that warns it glorifies violence.
On Facebook, however, the same message is still up, and it’s the reason why some employees are protesting today. But the dissent hasn’t only been contained to the walkout. “Inside the company,” the NYT reported, “staff members have circulated petitions and threatened to resign.” Some employees have taken to Twitter to speak out against company policy:
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 who you are or if it’s newsworthy. I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen.— Andrew (@AndrewCrow) June 1, 2020
I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.— Jason Toff (@jasontoff) June 1, 2020
Many employees are using the hashtag #TakeAction to express their opposition:
@Facebook‘s decision to not act on posts that incite violence against black people fails to keep our community safe. I’m asking that we revisit this decision and provide more transparency into the process, inclusive of black leadership.— Trevor Phillippi (@trevorphillippi) June 1, 2020
🖤 #BlackLivesMatter #TakeAction pic.twitter.com/cvdyNKgawd
The React Core team is joining the Facebook employee walkout in solidarity with the Black community.— Dan Abramov (@dan_abramov) June 1, 2020
Facebookʼs recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe. We implore the Facebook leadership to #TakeAction. pic.twitter.com/0i33nNQTLN
Some Facebook employees have also begun publicly announcing their resignation:
I am proud to announce that as of the end of today, I am no longer a Facebook employee.— Owen Anderson (@OwenResistor) June 1, 2020
In a Facebook post addressing Trump’s inflammatory words, Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “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.”
Further on, Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook removes content that it actually determines is inciting violence, instead of just hiding them as Twitter did. Over the weekend, as protestors faced violent escalation from the police, Trump claimed that the protests were organized by ANTIFA and that he would label the group as a terrorist organization. He also retweeted a message that reads, “This isn’t going to stop until the good guys are willing to use overwhelming force against the bad guys.”
The debate around how social media platforms should moderate the content it publishes was renewed last week when Twitter fact-checked one of Trump’s tweets about mail-in voting fraud. The move was a part of a new policy Twitter put in place on May 11th, and it was the first of Trump’s tweets to receive a fact-checking label for misinformation. Facebook took a different view of Twitter’s decision on this, too. “I don’t think that Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” said Zuckerberg in an interview.
The NYT reports that Zuckerberg has moved his weekly employee meeting up from Thursday to Tuesday, so that employees will have a chance to discuss Facebook’s policy on what counts as protected speech. As protests decrying the police killings of unarmed Black people continue, social media platforms will have to decide whether to provide a platform to posts that could lead to more violence against the Black community.
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