Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout Over Handling of Trump

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

(CN) — Facebook employees participated in a protest over the company’s response to President Donald Trump, saying the social media network doesn’t do enough to address posts by Trump that could incite violence in the nation. 

Several Facebook employees took part in what they are calling a “virtual walkout” which involves sharp criticism of the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on rival social media company Twitter over the company’s recent stance on presidential speech and the First Amendment. 

“I am proud to announce that as of the end of today, I am no longer a Facebook employee,” said Owen Anderson, who helped build the virtual infrastructure of one of the world’s most popular social media sites. “To be clear, this was in the works for a while. But after last week, I am happy to no longer support policies and values I vehemently disagree with.”

Last week, Twitter put a warning on two of Trump’s tweets attacking mail-in voting, citing its policy of policing tweets that spread misinformation about voting and the electoral system. 

The real-time fact check enraged Trump to the point that he rolled out an executive order that attempted to rescind part of federal law that indemnifies companies like Twitter and Facebook from lawsuits because they are platforms for speech rather than publishers of speech themselves. 

Twitter also obscured an early morning tweet from Trump on Friday that read in part “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” saying it violated their terms related to incitement of violent acts. 

When pressed about what his company was doing, Zuckerberg said Facebook would not censor political speech because he does not believe huge technology companies should be the arbiter of appropriate speech in society. 

“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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post Friday. 

The move irked many of the company’s employees, many of whom work in California’s liberal-leaning San Francisco Bay Area. 

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” said Ryan Freitas, who designs the news feed for Facebook. 

Internally, Monika Bickert, the company’s vice president for global policy management, wrote a lengthy post last week about why the company did not flag the same comments that Twitter did. 

“We do not believe that a private technology company like Facebook should be in the business of vetting what politicians say in the context of a political debate,” she wrote. “As is the case with the president’s tweets, speech from candidates and elected officials is highly scrutinized and debated. We think people should be allowed to hear what politicians say, make up their own minds and hold politicians to account.” 

Several employees took issue with the post, with one saying should conditions in America continue to deteriorate, “history will not judge us kindly.”

“There’s a real debate about whether Facebook should fact-check, suppress, or de-platform demagogic politicians,” said current Facebook employee Andrew Clark via Twitter on Monday afternoon. “Personally, I think we should be doing at least the first two.”

In other words, Clark said the company needs to be more aggressive in fact-checking politicians and disallowing the publication of some of the more incendiary posts.

Clark is part of the React Core Team at Facebook, many of whom put out a statement and changed their profile pictures on Twitter in solidarity. 

“Facebookʼs recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe,” the team wrote. “We implore the Facebook leadership to take action.”

Many Facebook employees point to Twitter as an example of how to nimbly flag egregious material while not engaging in outright censorship.  

While its employees have criticized Facebook before over several issues ranging from privacy to political misinformation, the employee protests that emerged over the weekend and into Monday represent a departure from previous criticism in intensity and scope. 

By some accounts, hundreds of employees of Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram took paid time off on Monday in reaction to the decision while airing their concerns, if not disgust, regarding Facebook’s policy. 

Facebook issued a statement Monday saying the employees would not be punished for participating in a protest and the company was interested in incorporating their perspectives as it continually revisits its policy. 

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our black community,” the company said. “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.”

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