After Facebook Meeting, Civil Rights Leaders Say Mark Zuckerberg's Trump Policy Explanation Was 'Incomprehensible'

Mark Zuckerberg's explanations for allowing a controversial Facebook post by President Donald Trump to remain online were "incomprehensible," according to a statement from a trio of leading civil rights leaders.

Executives from the social networking giant held a video meeting on Monday with heads of three advocacy groups after Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout to protest the company's policies on controversial updates by the president.

Internal Facebook revolt has surged amid the nationwide protests following the death of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd during an arrest by Minneapolis police on May 25. Demonstrations have since taken place across the world.

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg recently declined to remove a post by Trump in which the president appeared to suggest police or military could start shooting rioters.

Facebook staff publicly criticized their own policies online—a rare display of dissent—as Zuckerberg said that his business was "committed to free expression."

Executives involved in the video call included Zuckerberg, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and British politician-turned-policy chief Nick Clegg, Axios reported.

A statement was released by Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change.

"We are disappointed and stunned by Mark's incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up," the statement said.

"He 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," the joint message added.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg had a Zoom call tonight with civil rights groups @ColorOfChange @civilrightsorg & @NAACP_LDF about FB’s Trump policy and, well, here’s the statement from @rashadrobinson @vanitaguptaCR & @Sifill_LDF:

— Shannon Bond (@shannonpareil) June 2, 2020

In response to the groups' statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the executives had been "grateful that leaders in the civil rights community took the time to share candid, honest feedback" and said that it is "an important moment to listen."

Last week, Twitter took the unprecedented step of slapping a public interest notice on a tweet from the president for violating rules by "glorifying violence." It also added a fact-checking link to two additional Trump posts referring to mail-in voting.

However, the posts remain up on Facebook, including one that sparked outrage by using the loaded phrase: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

The lack of action did not sit well with Facebook employees, who used Twitter to voice their unease with the policies, and vowed to push for change.

"Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind," tweeted Ryan Freitas, director of product design for the News Feed division.

He was far from alone:

@Facebook's recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe. The policy pigeon holes us into addressing harmful user-facing content in two ways: keep content up or take it down.

— Sara Zhang (@superrrsara) June 1, 2020

.@Facebook's decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe. It pigeonholes us to address harmful user-facing content in 2 ways: keep content up or take it down. We implore leadership to revisit it. #TakeAction #BlackLivesMatter

— Angela Pham (@angelapham) June 1, 2020

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. I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen.

— Andrew (@AndrewCrow) June 1, 2020

I don't know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable. I'm a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark's decision to do nothing about Trump's recent posts, which clearly incite violence. I'm not alone inside of FB. There isn't a neutral position on racism.

— Stirman (@stirman) May 30, 2020

Zuckerberg—previously criticized for his platform's policy of not fact checking any paid political advertising—explained his rationale in a personal post on May 30.

He wrote: "I'm responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression."

Zuckerberg continued: "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.

"Unlike Twitter, we do not have a policy of putting a warning in front of posts that may incite violence because we believe that if a post incites violence, it should be removed regardless of whether it is newsworthy, even if it comes from a politician. We have been in touch with the White House today to explain these policies as well."

Yesterday, the CEO pledged $10 million in funding to groups working on racial justice. "We stand with the Black community," he wrote on his personal account.

Not everyone was convinced. "Mark Zuckerberg thinks he can put a $10 million price tag on our silence. He's wrong," Color of Change president Robinson tweeted in response yesterday. "You can't... write a check to make it go away."

Mark Zuckerberg thinks he can put a $10 million price tag on our silence. He's wrong. You can't call Trump and let him keep up a statement inciting violence against Black people, refuse to speak to civil rights leaders & Black employees, and then write a check to make it go away.

— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) June 1, 2020

A spokesperson told Newsweek via email: "We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community. 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.

Facebook Trump Tweet
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty