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Zuckerberg Leaves Race Justice Leader Frustrated After Call

Jeff Green
Zuckerberg Leaves Race Justice Leader Frustrated After Call

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg hosted a nearly hour-long video call with U.S. civil rights leaders to discuss ongoing issues around his company’s policies as they relate to race, elections and other topics. But participants were left disappointed, according to Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, who concluded that Zuckerberg can’t fully grasp the change they seek.

In an interview with Bloomberg News immediately after the call, Robinson said that “the problem with my ongoing conversations with Mark, is that I feel like I spent a lot of time, and my colleagues spent a lot of time, explaining to him why these things are a problem, and I think he just very much lacks the ability to understand it.”

These comments come at a time when the U.S. is roiled by daily protests for racial justice triggered by the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, while in police custody in Minneapolis. Facebook has come in for criticism from within its own ranks, with an upswell of dismay among employees after the CEO adopted a hands-off approach to messages posted by President Donald Trump that seemed to threaten violence with the words “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Read more: Facebook Worker Unrest Rises With Walkout, Criticism of CEO

Robinson said he wanted Zuckerberg to take concrete action against the post; ideally to take it off the site, but at a minimum, to mark or flag it in some way, as Twitter did, and at least make an effort to adjudicate the internet.

“The problem with Facebook is they have a policy problem,” Robinson said. “You can’t have a conversation with Donald Trump, and leave up his Tweet on Facebook platforms talking about shooting protesters.”

Robinson said some Facebook employees have reached out, “saying Black Lives Matter, saying I’m going to give money, but having your policies actually hurt black people, people will know the difference.” Some of the company’s senior staff have taken to Twitter to make their discontent public and some employees -- working from home because of the pandemic -- held a virtual walkout, deciding not to log in to work on Monday in protest. Zuckerberg defended his position to leave Trump’s post up without commentary by saying on Friday, “We think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.”

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the call with civil rights leaders. In a statement sent to Axios, Facebook said it was “grateful that leaders in the civil rights community took the time to share candid, honest feedback.” The company added that “it is an important moment to listen, and we look forward to continuing these conversations.”

Robinson also recently spoke up at a Facebook shareholder meeting and said he’s had dinner at Zuckerberg’s home and been on other calls with the CEO to talk about similar topics. Joining the Monday call was Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. All of this effort from Facebook’s executive team suggests the company is serious at least about bringing civil rights leaders on its side, however Robinson expressed more frustration than hope.

“He continues to do things and make decisions that hurt communities and put people in harm’s way and is not accountable for it,” said Robinson.

(Updates with background on employee virtual walkout in sixth paragraph.)

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