Facebook Employee Protests Intensify, But Zuckerberg Defends Stance on Trump Post

Facebook Employee Protests Intensify, But Zuckerberg Defends Stance on Trump Post

According to a Bloomberg report, the Facebook CEO and his team “couldn’t justify that the message clearly incited violence.”

Shouvik Das
  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 3, 2020, 3:49 PM IST
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Facebook appears to be in between what is its biggest internal protest ever. While protests have been building against Facebook over its recent stance on a certain narrative of violence projected by US president Donald Trump, it now appears to be intensifying even further. A few hours ago, a Bloomberg report stated that Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, stated in a video conferencing call with employees yesterday that he and his company policy team “couldn’t justify saying that the message clearly incited violence, which means it didn’t break Facebook’s rules.” In other words, Zuckerberg stated that he will stick to his previous opinion of keeping away from making a political statement.

Subsequent to this internal call, two Facebook employees posted about resigning from the company. Timothy J. Aveni, who is a software engineer in Facebook’s misinformation team, posted about his resignation from the company on his Facebook profile. Excerpts of his post states:

He (Trump) is permitted to break the rules, since his political speech is “newsworthy”. Mark always told us that he would draw the line at speech that calls for violence. He showed us on Friday that this was a lie. Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric. Since Friday, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand and process the decision not to remove the racist, violent post Trump made Thursday night, but Facebook, complicit in the propagation of weaponised hatred, is on the wrong side of history.

A second employee, Owen Anderson, who worked at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) Labs as an engineering manager for PyTorch JIT, posted on Twitter, “I am proud to announce that as of the end of today, I am no longer a Facebook employee. To be clear, this was in the works for a while. But after last week, I am happy to no longer support policies and values I vehemently disagree with.”

While these might only account for two resignations, the move underlines a uniform narrative of dissent that is taken Facebook over, internally. Twitter, often seen as Facebook’s most notable rival in the social media space, moved to impose fact checking banners and violence warnings on Donald Trump’s posts about mail-in ballots and the controversial opinion saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Facebook, however, remained mum over what it constituted the same posts to be.

After being called out by employees, who has since organised a virtual walkout due to Facebook’s inaction over Trump’s posts, Zuckerberg stated in the video conference that it will soon release an election hub, similar to its news hub for Covid-19, where voters on its platform can get verified news articles for the US presidential elections, instead of relying on unverified user-based posts. It also stated that Fidji Simo, the head of Facebook’s mobile app, will take more “proactive initiatives” to “advance racial justice”. Prior to this, Zuckerberg has already “committed” $10 million towards organisations working on racial justice.

That, however, seems to be missing the focal point of the issue at hand. Zuckerberg and Facebook, with its stance, are reverting back to its old opinion of not making a political statement, instead choosing to play the intermediary card and letting users take their own call. Facebook’s messaging so far has been that it isn’t going to censor Trump’s post because people deserve the right to know. The post, as per his opinion, did not pose “imminent risk of specific harms or dangers”.

With Facebook standing at the risk of setting a dangerous historic precedent, Zuckerberg’s talk of racial justice does not seem enough. Instead, it seems to play safe at a time when employees and users alike are clamouring for a strong stance from what is the world’s largest social media platform.

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