Thousands of Facebook workers demanded that their boss, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, flag President Trump’s controversial post about ‘looting and shooting’ as a third employee has resigned in protest of the company’s hands-off policy.
Internal documents leaked to The Washington Post revealed that most of the 5,500 Facebook employees who voted in a poll wanted Zuckerberg to change the company’s policy allowing politicians virtually unfettered free speech.
‘Fact checking and removal of hate speech shouldn’t be exempt for politicians,’ the Facebook employees wrote. This demand was raised before Zuckerberg when the boss held a virtual town hall this week.
Zuckerberg hosted the virtual town hall on Tuesday. During the 90-minute Q&A with employees, he defended the decision to refrain from flagging Trump’s post.
He said that he didn’t think that the post ‘read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands.’
The CEO said it was decided to leave up the post because ‘people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.’
Zuckerberg also told his employees that Trump later clarified the post by ‘saying that the original post was warning about the possibility that looting could lead to violence.’
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to allow President Trump’s post about the Minneapolis riots to remain online without a disclaimer has angered his employees, according to internal documents
On May 29, as riots engulfed Minneapolis and unrest spread to other parts of the country, the president took to social media and wrote: ‘Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.’
A day after Trump’s post, Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook: ‘I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but 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.’
He further described himself as ‘the leader of an institution committed to free expression.’
Zuckerberg’s response has failed to quell the unrest in his own ranks. According to the Post, many employees question his commitment to diversity given the few people of color in an executive position within Facebook.
Facebook, like other tech firms, has been criticized for its lack of diversity. Just 4 per cent of Facebook employees are African-American.
Among the company’s senior leadership, just 3 per cent are black, according to the Post.
The most senior African-American at Facebook is Maxine Williams, who is chief of diversity. Williams is the only person of color involved in the company’s decision to leave up Trump’s posts.
Facebook said in a statement: ‘We have teams around the company giving serious attention to the ideas we’re hearing, especially those from our Black community.
‘This is a time not just to listen but to act.’
Internal message boards show that there is a growing sense among Facebook employees that the company is in an ‘abusive relationship’ with the president.
They have complained that the company has not taken action against Trump’s posts even though it is claimed that they violate community standards prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence.
The internal documents also show that Zuckerberg is being perceived by his employees as bending over backwards to try and appease conservatives who have accused him and his 45,000-person workforce of having a liberal bias.
Employees were further angered when Zuckerberg not only refused to put a disclaimer or remove the post by Trump, but went on Fox News and explained his rationale.
The inner turmoil at the company was amplified by the raging protests throughout the country.
The president has been accused of fanning racial tensions that exploded to the surface after the May 25 death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.
On May 29, as riots engulfed Minneapolis and unrest spread to other parts of the country, the president took to social media and wrote: ‘I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership.
‘Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.
‘These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen.
Timothy J. Aveni, 22, quit his job at Facebook to protest the decision not to flag Trump’s post
‘Mark always told us that he would draw the line at speech that calls for violence,’ Aveni wrote. ‘He showed us on Friday that this was a lie’
‘Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way.
‘Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.’
Trump’s tweet was slapped with a disclaimer by Twitter, which flagged the president for violating the company’s rules about glorifying violence.
The phrase ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ was made famous by Walter Headley, Miami’s chief of police who was known to be a racist and who used it when describing attempts to put down race riots in the late 1960s.
Trump told reporters that he was unaware of the racially charged history of the phrase.
In trying to clarify, the president later tweeted: ‘Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night – or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot.
‘I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means….
‘It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement.
‘It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media.
‘Honor the memory of George Floyd!’
Unlike Facebook, Twitter also put a disclaimer on another tweet by Trump – this one about his claim that vote-by-mail initiatives are susceptible to voter fraud.
In response, Trump signed an executive order which threatens to remove legal protections that prevent social media companies from being sued over content posted by third parties.
Another employee, Owen Anderson, announced his resignation from Facebook in protest
Another social media giant, Snapchat, removed Trump’s account from its Discover timeline, a feature that promotes notable accounts to users who do not ordinarily follow them.
The social media company explained its decision by saying that Trump’s posts incited ‘racial violence.’
Last week, it was learned that some 700 employees at Facebook were unhappy with the social media giant’s decision to not take any action on controversial posts by Trump, despite having been flagged on Twitter.
Twitter allowed the post to remain online, but it placed a warning that it ‘glorified violence.’ It also did not allow users to respond to the tweet.
When the White House Twitter account posted the same tweet, Twitter also moved to impose the same restrictions.
Some of the employees called on Facebook executives to reconsider the decision to keep up Trump’s controversial posts about mail-in ballots and the Minnesota protests.
‘I have to say I am finding the contortions we have to go through incredibly hard to stomach,’ one employee was quoted in an email as reported by The Verge.
‘All this points to a very high risk of a violent escalation and civil unrest in November and if we fail the test case here, history will not judge us kindly.’
At least three employees resigned in protest of the company’s decision not to put a disclaimer or to outright delete the post.
Timothy Aveni, a software engineer, announced his resignation on his Facebook page on Monday.
‘Mark always told us that he would draw the line at speech that calls for violence,’ Aveni wrote.
‘He showed us on Friday that this was a lie.
On Friday, it was learned that a third employee informed his bosses at Facebook that he was quitting in protest. The above image shows Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California
‘Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric.’
Another employee, Owen Anderson, tweeted on Monday: ‘To be clear, this was in the works for a while.
‘But after last week, I am happy to no long support policies and values I vehemently disagree with.’
On Friday, it was reported by Recode that a third employee has left the company in protest of the decision to leave Trump’s post as is.
The unnamed employee, who is described as a ‘person of color’ though not an African-American, announced his resignation in an internal WhatsApp group message board.
The note, which was addressed to Zuckerberg, reads: ‘I’m deeply ashamed of working in a company that gives free rein to a racist post because it is by a politician.’
‘Black employees from your own company have asked you to respond meaningfully, but you remain alternately defensive and evasive … You’ve disappointed us all — the few people of color in your company — and your refusal to speak out against violence against Black people is chilling.’
The day before Zuckerberg held his virtual town hall, many Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout.
The employees, who took the day off by logging into Facebook’s systems and requesting time off to support protesters across the country, also added an automated message to their emails saying that they were out of the office in a show of protest.
Dozens of online posts appeared from employees who claimed Trump’s post should have been censored or removed altogether.
Among them were all seven engineers on the team maintaining the React code library which supports Facebook’s apps.
‘Facebook’s 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,’ they said in a joint statement published on Twitter.
‘Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,’ wrote Ryan Freitas, identified on Twitter as director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed.
He added he had mobilized ’50+ likeminded folks’ to lobby for internal change.
On Monday night, Zuckerberg then held a conference call with civil rights leaders who condemned him for failing to remove the post from President Trump.
A demonstrator in New York City gestures during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd on Friday
In a subsequent statement, Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference and Sherrilyn Ifill of LDF said: ‘He [Zuckerberg] 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. Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook.’
Color of Change President Rashad Robinson also told Bloomberg: ‘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.
‘He continues to do things and make decisions that hurt communities and put people in harm’s way and is not accountable for it.
‘His employees are outraged. I’ve got outreach from some of them. 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.’
However, in his Tuesday meeting with his Facebook employees, Zuckerberg insisted he was not deferring to President Trump.
‘This isn’t a case where [Trump] is allowed to say anything he wants, or that we let government officials or policy makers say anything they want.’
‘I’m deeply ashamed of working in a company that gives free rein to a racist post’: Text of resignation note addressed to Mark Zuckerberg
A giant digital sign is seen at Facebook’s corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California
Hello Mr. Zuckerberg,
I am resigning in protest at the appalling lack of empathy with which you and Sheryl Sandberg refuse to admit that Trump’s racist post not only acts as an incitement for further violence against Black people, but that it breaks Facebook’s community standards.
I’m deeply ashamed of working in a company that gives free rein to a racist post because it is by a politician.
I feel, as I know everyone who thinks critically does nowadays, that I am living in a dystopian novel whose plot is getting darker by the page.
That I have to make this point, when it should have been obvious what the right choice is (hint: put an explicit warning or take down the racist post) is appalling.
I’m going to quote you here through the already-leaked transcript:
‘I actually think the fact that the video of the murder was posted through giving people a voice on our service, something that becomes enabled that way, has just had an immense impact.
‘And I just – I would urge people to not look at the moral impact of what we do just through the lens of harm and mitigation.
‘That’s clearly – that’s a huge part of what we have to do.
‘I’m not downplaying that, and we spend massive resources, thousands of people working on this and billions of dollars a year.
‘But it’s also good to remember the upside and the good and the giving people a voice who wouldn’t have previously been able to get into the news and talk about stuff and having painful things be visible.’
Are we comparing the video of George Floyd being posted on Facebook to giving a voice to Trump’s hate speech?
Are we so tone-deaf today that we cannot tell the difference between free speech and bigotry?
Is ‘not doing real world harm’ not one of our community standards?
Does Trump really need a platform on which he can broadcast his racist views, which you insist ‘is not’ a signal to legitimize violence against Black people.
I quote below for reference:
‘So we’re getting into the history of the comment around “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” and it’s clearly a troubling historical statement and reference, whether or not it’s inciting supporters to go to violence, and we basically concluded after the research and after everything I’ve read and all the different folks that I’ve talked to, that that reference is clearly to aggressive policing – maybe excessive policing – but has no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands.’
We know it uses the language of the segragationists.
Just because you don’t believe it’s a signal for further violence (and please tell us how you researched this – did you collect data for how words are interpreted?), can you honestly look Black people in the eye and say that there is not a chance it will be interpreted as such?
In a political climate as fraught as this one, in an election year, with overwhelming violence against Black people already rampant, are you really going to hide behind the claim that Facebook is still only a platform for communication?
That it hasn’t modified the behavior of two generations since its inception?
Nothing, especially language, is ever neutral.
Black people across the entire nation are terrified and appalled.
Black employees from your own company have asked you to respond meaningfully, but you remain alternately defensive and evasive.
I broke down after I saw a Black friend and colleague in so much pain because the struggle Black people have had to undergo for so long finally came to light.
And what happens when you have a chance to make a difference (and I mean a real difference – speaking out – not just throwing money at the problem)?
Nothing. You’ve disappointed us all – the few people of color in your company – and your refusal to speak out against violence against Black people is chilling.
I am not as good as you are at not looking at the ‘moral impact of what we do,’ and so I leave Facebook in protest.
I cannot give my time and intellectual contribution to a company whose leadership is too cowardly to take a stand.