Facebook in turmoil over refusal to police Trump’s posts

Updated Jun 02 2020

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Employees are speaking out against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's refusal to sanction false or inflammatory posts by US president. — AP/File
Employees are speaking out against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's refusal to sanction false or inflammatory posts by US president. — AP/File

SAN FRANCISCO: The clash between Twitter and Donald Trump has thrust rival Facebook into turmoil, with employees rebelling against CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to sanction false or inflammatory posts by the US president.

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavour in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” Ryan Freitas, the design director of Facebook’s News Feed, tweeted on Sunday, adding that he was organising about 50 other employees who share his view.

At the root of the discord is Twitter’s unprecedented intervention last week when it tagged two Trump tweets about mail-in ballots with messages urging people to “get the facts.” Zuckerberg reacted by telling Fox News that private social media platforms “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” Trump retweeted the interview.

On Friday, Twitter responded once again to a Trump tweet, this time after he used the platform to warn protesters outraged by the death at police hands of an unarmed black man that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter covered up the tweet with a message warning it “violated Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” Viewers had to click on the message to see the underlying tweet.

The message also was posted on Facebook, but Zuckerberg decided to let it stand unchallenged.

“I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the president’s tweets and posts all day,” he wrote on Friday in a post.

“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.” But, Zuckerberg went on to say that “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.”

Twitter and Facebook both have in place systems to combat disinformation and dangerous content — appeals to hatred, harassment, incitement to violence and the like.

But Facebook exempts political personalities and candidates from these restrictions.

Zuckerberg’s position has not gone down well with many of his employees, who turned to Twitter and Medium to express their disapproval.

“I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable,” Jason Stirman, a member of Facebook’s research and development team, wrote on Twitter.

Other Facebook employees spoke out on Sunday.

David Gillis, a member of the design team who specialises in product safety and integrity, said he believed Trump’s looting and shooting tweet “encourages extra-judicial violence and racism.” “While I understand why we chose to stay squarely within the four corners of our violence and incitement policy, I think it would have been right for us to make a ‘spirit of the policy’ exception that took more context into account,” he wrote.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020