Zuckerburg Backlash over Trump Post Continues as Facebook Moderators Say 'Our Screens Are Being Flooded with Hate Speech'

A group of current and former Facebook content moderators has criticized CEO Mark Zuckerberg's decision not to remove a controversial post by President Donald Trump, as pressure mounts on the founder to review the platform's policies.

An open letter from the group, uploaded online today, expresses solidarity with protesters taking to the streets following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Former police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd's death sparked global Black Lives Matter protests and civil unrest.

On May 29, after overnight protests in Minneapolis, Trump put out a message on social media that appeared to incite violence with the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Criticism over the decision not to remove or place a warning on Trump's Facebook post grew after Twitter flagged the same words for "glorifying violence," hiding it from public view. Many Facebook employees tweeted complaints. Some resigned from their positions.

The moderators voiced support for a "virtual walkout" held by Facebook staff last week who disagreed with the choice not to sanction Trump.

"Events prove we cannot passively accept our role of silent algorithm facilitators—not when our screens are being flooded with hate speech," the moderators wrote. "Not when we are forced to witness the impact of the dog whistles and countless hours of live streamed police brutality, of pain inflicted on black bodies."

The content of the open letter was first reported by The Guardian.

Zuckerberg said during a video meeting with staff last week that a review of the post found it did not violate the current policies around incitement of violence.

"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," the CEO said, according to a transcript of the video call meeting that was published by Recode last Wednesday.

He also said that despite his own "visceral negative reaction" to the president's rhetoric, Facebook should strive to enable as much expression as possible.

"Facebook can do better," moderators countered in the letter, which included four names that remained anonymous as the signers are still employed at the website. "We need to express that Mr. Zuckerberg's words about personal dismay caused by Trump's 'looting and shooting' rhetoric are not enough—especially not when so many of his employees recognize it as a blatant violation of the spirit of the violence and incitement policy; as a call to action no 'newsworthiness' is able to justify."

The moderators said they would have taken part in the virtual walkout but non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) currently prevent them from voicing concerns in public. The open letter asserted that president Trump is well aware of his actions.

The group wrote: "The benefit of the doubt this politician is being given as a user, even with such a large platform, is unparalleled—the attempt to retroactively place his words behind the context of other posts, actually has had the effect of putting it on an isolated pedestal. This may be the ultimate exhibit of white exceptionality and further legitimization of state brutality we have witnessed in the last weeks."

Last week, dozens of Facebook's "earliest employees" said Zuckerberg's decision not to remove Trump's post was a "betrayal" of the social networks original ideals.

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

On Saturday, an open letter signed by more than 200 scientists, many being funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), slammed Facebook executives for letting Trump spread "misinformation and incendiary statements" without consequence.

In a post on his personal account last Friday, Zuckerberg said Facebook would review its content policies regarding "discussion and threats of state use of force."

He wrote: "There are two specific situations under this policy that we're going to review. The first is around instances of excessive use of police or state force. Given the sensitive history in the US, this deserves special consideration.

"The second case is around when a country has ongoing civil unrest or violent conflicts. We already have precedents for imposing greater restrictions during emergencies and when countries are in ongoing states of conflict, so there may be additional policies... around discussion or threats of state use of force when a country is in this state."

I just shared the following note with our employees, and I want to share it with all of you as well. --- As we...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, June 5, 2020

Zuckerberg said he would review policies about "violating or partially-violating content" aside from the "binary leave-it-up or take-it-down decisions." He wrote: "I know many of you think we should have labeled the President's posts in some way last week.

"Our current policy is that if content is actually inciting violence, then the right mitigation is to take that content down—not let people continue seeing it behind a flag.

"There is no exception to this policy for politicians or newsworthiness. I think this policy is principled and reasonable, but I also respect a lot of the people who think there may be better alternatives, so I want to make sure we hear all those ideas.

"I worry that this approach has a risk of leading us to editorialize on content we don't like even if it doesn't violate our policies, so I think we need to proceed very carefully."

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington, DC on October 23, 2019. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty