Facebook's 'Earliest Employees' Call for Mark Zuckerberg to Label Trump's Threatening Post: 'Fact-checking Is Not Censorship'

Dozens of early Facebook employees have said that Mark Zuckerberg's decision not to remove a threatening post by president Trump is a "betrayal" of the platform's ideals, fuming in a letter: "Fact-checking is not censorship."

More than 30 former staffers of the social network, who said they contributed to authoring its first community standards, published a lengthy statement this week as Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, faced waves of public criticism from employees.

Internal dissent has been fueled by the choice not to restrict a May 29 post by Trump including the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Facebook employees staged a "virtual walkout" on Monday, with many staffers taking to a rival social network to complain about how Facebook's policies were used to protect Trump's post—restricted by Twitter for "glorifying violence."

The letter, signed by 33 early employees, argues the president's post threatening state violence on U.S. citizens "sends a signal to millions" of his supporters and calls for the moderators to fact-check politicians and explicitly label harmful posts.

"In an age of live-streamed shootings, Facebook should know the danger of this better than most. Trump's rhetoric, steeped in history of American racism, targeted people whom Facebook would not allow to repeat his words back to him," it said.

Zuckerberg addressed the criticism during a video call meeting with staff on Tuesday, in which he said Facebook's policies on posts about state violence—currently allowed on the platform—may be changed due to a "prolonged period of civil unrest."

He said: "That might suggest that we need different policies, even if just temporarily, in the United States for some period, compared to where we were before."

Anti-racism protests are currently raging nationwide, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, 46, who died while being arrested by police in Minnesota on May 25.

The open letter was obtained and published in full by The New York Times. A transcript of the Facebook call with employees on Tuesday was released by Recode.

Zuckerberg said in a May 30 post that he personally had a "visceral negative reaction" to Trump's posts but indicated it was not currently violating any policies.

"I know many people are upset 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," the CEO wrote.

This has been an incredibly tough week after a string of tough weeks. The killing of George Floyd showed yet again that...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, 29 May 2020

But reaction from current staff was swift, with rare public displays of frustration boiling over onto Twitter throughout this week, attracting fresh media attention.

"I'm a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark's decision to do nothing about Trump's recent posts, which clearly incite violence" tweeted Jason Stirman, a Facebook design manager. "There isn't a neutral position on racism."

"Giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable," wrote Andrew Crow, head of design at Portal, Facebook's video call division.

Zuckerberg's explanations for not policing Trump's post were called "incomprehensible" by a trio of U.S. civil rights leaders who met with him on Monday.

Early employees, too, disagreed with Zuckerberg, saying the disparity between how users and politicians are treated is a "betrayal of the ideals Facebook claims."

The letter read: "The company we joined valued giving individuals a voice as loud as their government—protecting the powerless rather than the powerful.

"Facebook now turns that goal on its head. It claims that providing warnings about a politician's speech is inappropriate, but removing content from citizens is acceptable, even if both are saying the same thing," the joint message continued.

"That is not a noble stand for freedom. It is incoherent, and worse, cowardly. Facebook should be holding politicians to a higher standard than their constituents."

In a message directed directly at Zuckerberg, they added: "Facebook isn't neutral... fact checking is not censorship. Labeling a call to violence is not authoritarianism."

Facebook has been contacted for comment on the letter by Newsweek.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc. attends the Viva Tech start-up and technology gathering at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France. Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty