Some employees of Facebook and Instagram held a “virtual walkout” on Monday after CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his decision not to take action against controversial posts from President Trump.
A number of employees posted about their frustrations with Zuckerberg’s hands-off approach on a rival social media platform, Twitter — which has recently become more proactive about flagging misinformation and violent language by the president.
“I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard,” Facebook employee Jason Toff tweeted.
“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,” tweeted Facebook employee Andrew Crow.
“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,” wrote another Facebook employee, Jason Stirman.
One employee at Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) said she was taking the day off to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “i’m deeply disappointed & ashamed in how the company is showing up the world,” wrote the employee, Katie Zhu. She encouraged others to join her and “put your ~$~zuck bucks~$ where ur tweets are” by supporting black-led organizations.
Their frustration comes after Mr. Trump’s social media posts about protests in Minneapolis and across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death became increasingly aggressive.
When the president called protesters “THUGS” in a tweet and warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Twitter quickly tagged the post, saying it “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.”
But Zuckerberg declined to take similar steps. The Facebook CEO has long resisted the idea of curtailing free speech on the world’s largest social network, even as examples piled up of misinformation and sometimes dangerous and hateful language spreading widely on Facebook.
In several Facebook posts this week, Zuckerberg doubled down on the free speech policy. “I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day. Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” he wrote.
“But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression. 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 spelled out in clear policies,” his post continued.
Zuckerberg said the company did evaluate the presidents’ posts about the protests in Minneapolis and determined they did not violate policies. “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,” Zuckerberg wrote.
Now, it’s clear not all of Zuckerberg’s employees are willing to go along quietly.
The New York Times, which first reported on the employees’ protests, said “hundreds” within the company took part. Some participated in a “virtual walkout” by taking off of work, since most employees are working from home and cannot physically demonstrate by leaving the office. Many of the employees added an automated email response saying that they were out of the office in a show of protest.
In addition, some staff members circulated petitions and wrote about their frustrations both publicly and privately on the company’s internal message boards, The Times reports.
“The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US President does not warrant defense under the guise of freedom of expression,” read an employee’s post on an internal message board, which was obtained by The Times.
“Along with Black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark to immediately take down the President’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people,” the employee’s post continued.
CBS News has reached out to several Facebook and Instagram employees about the demonstration as well as the company for their response.
In addition to the backlash from some employees, the online therapy site TalkSpace announced that it’s decided to discontinue discussions about a partnership with Facebook due to its handling of the controversy. “We will not support a platform that incites violence, racism, and lies. #BlackLivesMatter,” tweeted TalkSpace co-founder and CEO Oren Frank.