Zuckerberg defends Facebook's hands-off response to Trump's controversial post, report says - CNET

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's approach to political speech is drawing criticism from his own employees. 

James Martin/CNET

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly standing by the company's decision to not take action against a post by President Donald Trump that employees say could incite violence.

The New York Times, which listened to audio of an internal meeting, reported Tuesday that Zuckerberg told employees he had made a "tough decision" but that it "was pretty thorough." His remarks came a day after hundreds of Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout to protest the company's decision, which contrasted with how Twitter handled the same content.

In social media posts shared on both Twitter and Facebook, Trump said "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." The president made the remarks in response to news about protests that erupted following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota who died after a white police officer pinned him down by placing a knee on Floyd's neck. The incident was captured in a video that shows Floyd repeatedly saying he can't breathe. 

Twitter screened out the president's tweet with a notice that says the post violates its rules against glorifying violence . But because the president's words are of public interest, Twitter said, users can click a View button in the notice to go ahead and read the tweet. Facebook left up Trump's post untouched after the company determined the president's remarks didn't violate its rules against creating "imminent risk of specific harms or dangers." Facebook allows for discussion around state use of force, and Zuckerberg said the company left up Trump's post because it referenced the National Guard, so the social network "read it as a warning about state action." He also noted that Trump later clarified that his post was a warning about how looting could lead to violence.

Now playing: Watch this: Tech giants pledge funds to fight racial injustice, Facebook...


Conservatives have accused Facebook and other sites of censoring their speech, but the companies have repeatedly denied these allegations. Trump signed an executive order Thursday in an attempt to curtail federal legal protections that social networks get in regard to posts created by their users.

In his call with employees, Zuckerberg said that Facebook's principles around free speech show that "the right action" for the company was to leave the post up, The New York Times reported.

Facebook employees are reportedly divided over whether the company did the right thing with Trump's posts. The social network typically has a hands-off approach to posts and ads posted by politicians but draws a line when the content could cause "imminent risk of specific harms or dangers." The company sets a higher bar for removing political speech, arguing that people should be able to see what politicians say and that their speech is already heavily scrutinized by the public and media. 

One Facebook employee, who wasn't named, told Business Insider that he thought the company technically applied its policies correctly but questioned whether the rules were "ultimately sustainable."

Others expressed their disappointment with the meeting publicly on Twitter. Facebook engineer Brandon Dail said in a tweet that "It's crystal clear today that leadership refuses to stand with us."

Some Facebook employees have threatened to resign, and a number have followed through with the decision. On Tuesday, Facebook software engineer Timothy Aveni said in a post on the social network and on LinkedIn that he's leaving his job on June 12.

"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," Aveni said in a Facebook post.

It's unclear how many Facebook employees have resigned in protest. The company has more than 48,200 workers worldwide. Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.