In open letter, former employees call Facebook ‘cowardly’ for Trump stance

4 Jun 2020

Image: hannatv/Depositphotos

A group of Facebook employees has published a strongly worded open letter calling for the company to change its stance on posts from politicians.

In response to comments made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that the social network should not hide or place warning labels on controversial posts from US president Donald Trump, more than 30 former employees have published an open letter calling the decision “cowardly”.

As protests continue across the US and other parts of the world sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Trump has been strongly criticised for his posts across a variety of social network platforms, leading to Twitter taking the decision to hide one of his tweets for “glorifying violence”.

In his tweet last week, Trump had warned protesters that he would be willing to send the US military in to quell protests if there was “any difficulty”, stating that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

However, Facebook said it wouldn’t take any action on the same post published to its site. Zuckerberg said in a recent interview with Fox News that it “wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians”. He added that he doesn’t think that Facebook should be an “arbiter of truth”.

Now, a group of former employees who joined the company early on have accused Facebook of contradicting itself by claiming it does not want to alter content or limit free speech. Among those in the group are Facebook’s first chief of communications and some who helped establish its first community guidelines.

‘Not a noble stand for freedom’

“[Facebook] monitors speech all the time when it adds warnings to links, downranks content to reduce its spread and fact-checks political speech from non-politicians,” they wrote.

“This is a betrayal of the ideals Facebook claims. The company we joined valued giving individuals a voice as loud as their government’s – protecting the powerless rather than the powerful.

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

In an appeal to Zuckerberg, the authors wrote that Facebook must now work to regain the public’s trust, adding that the belief that Facebook has always been a neutral party is false.

“Making the world more open and connected, strengthening communities, giving everyone a voice – these are not neutral ideas,” they said.

“Fact-checking is not censorship. Labelling a call to violence is not authoritarianism. Please reconsider your position. Proceed and be bold.”

Facebook has not commented about the open letter.

Snapchat limits Trump messaging

A number of current Facebook staff have also held a virtual walkout this week over the company’s stance, with the New York Times reporting that one employee posted internally: “The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US president does not warrant defence under the guise of freedom of expression.”

In a company-wide meeting after the walkout, Zuckerberg defended the company’s stance and dealt with critical questioning from employees.

Meanwhile, Snapchat has said that it will no longer promote content from Trump’s account through its Discover feature, according to CNN. However, his account will remain on the platform.

In a statement, a company spokesperson said: “We are not currently promoting the president’s content on Snapchat’s Discover platform. We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover.

“Racial violence and injustice have no place in our society and we stand together with all who seek peace, love, equality and justice in America.”

In response, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale accused Snapchat of “trying to rig the 2020 election” and “suppress president Trump”.

May 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Miami, Florida. Image: hannatv/Depositphotos

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic