On Friday, Zuckerberg explained in a post the company’s decision to leave Trump’s post up. He stated that regardless of what his own personal feelings on the matter may be, the company’s position is that it “should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies.”
Following this, a number of Facebook employees expressed disagreement with Zuckerberg’s statement. On Monday, employees across the country, including some in management, declined to work in protest. Others took to social media to express their dissent.
The intensity of the reactions reveals how Zuckerberg’s approach to political involvement is creating as many problems for the company as it is solving. Conservatives say that Facebook’s effort to draw lines on certain content smacks of bias and censorship. Liberals, on the other hand, wonder if Zuckerberg, who has had private phone calls and dinners with Trump, is simply cozying up to the administration.
In deciding to let the president’s message stand, Zuckerberg seems to have triggered an internal revolt.
The Trump tweet that ignited the debate came early Friday morning. Here, he warned that any protesters who resorted to violence in Minneapolis would face lethal force. While Facebook did not censor Trump, rival social media platform Twitter was quick to label the tweet as “glorifying violence” for threatening demonstrators. This, despite the president himself saying that he was simply referring to the looters themselves becoming violent. (Related: Censorship: Google to start flagging “offensive” content as another form of censorship.)
The public reaction to Facebook letting Trump’s posts stand was swift but not unexpected. Liberals decried the company’s lack of action while many Republicans lauded it. Meanwhile, as the protests swept across American cities the anger soon spread inside the company.
“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,” said Andrew Crow, Facebook’s head of design for Portal in a tweet. “I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen.”
On Monday, the New York Times reported that some employees had also threatened to resign and at least one prospective hire declined a job offer. In light of this, Zuckerberg has moved a weekly discussion with employees from Thursday to Tuesday, in an effort to assuage concerns.
“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” said Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone in a statement. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”
However, Zuckerberg has made it clear that his objective isn’t popularity nor public approval. He has acknowledged that his staunch dedication to free speech and resistance to calls to filter some political rhetoric will never please the company’s numerous critics.
“My goal for this next decade isn’t to be liked, but to be understood,” Zuckerberg said to investors in January. “In order to be trusted, people need to know what you stand for.”
Conservative groups have lauded Zuckerberg’s dedication to free speech. They argue that just as political leaders shouldn’t meddle in the affairs of private enterprise, so too should private enterprise not meddle in the speech of political leaders.
“If you’re going to make free expression the paramount value and if you’re to say that you don’t believe it’s your role to be fact-checking political speech, both of which I think are right, then this is what that looks like,” stated Jesse Blumenthal, of the Koch-backed advocacy group Stand Together. “And it’s not surprising to me that people don’t like it, including some of Facebook’s own employees.”
[Editor’s note: It’s worth noting that while Mark Zuckerberg has refused to remove a post by President Trump, he’s still in the business of blocking free speech. Just last month, Facebook has banned people from sharing links from Natural News and other independent media. This is just the latest in a string of moves made to censor Natural News – starting from it scrubbing the Natural News page last year.]