Facebook staff hold virtual walkout over stance on Trump posts

2 Jun 2020

Image: © JHVEPhoto/Stock.adobe.com

A number of Facebook employees have virtually downed tools in protest of the company’s handing of recent posts from Donald Trump.

A number of Facebook employees have taken part in a virtual walkout, expressing their anger over the fact that “hateful rhetoric” being posted to the social network is not being taken down.

According to The New York Times, this virtual walkout is one of a number of employee groups that are calling for the platform to take a stand against Donald Trump’s messaging around the ongoing protests happening across the US.

In a post last week, the US president warned protesters that he would be willing to send in the US military to quell demonstrations if there was “any difficulty”. He went on to state that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, it is believed, was referencing comments made in 1967 by former Miami police chief Walter Headley.

Trump’s post was hidden on Twitter for violating the platform’s rules about “glorifying violence”. However, Facebook said it wouldn’t take any action on the same post published to its site.

Facebook staff have circulated petitions internally protesting this decision, and some have threatened to resign. Current and former employees have said that this latest walkout may be the most serious challenge to the authority of Mark Zuckerberg since Facebook was founded.

Zuckerberg’s ‘visceral negative reaction’

In an internal message seen by The New York Times, one employee said: “The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US president does not warrant defence under the guise of freedom of expression.

“Along with black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark [Zuckerberg] to immediately take down the president’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against black people.”

In contrast to Twitter, which has taken a harder stance against Trump’s statements, 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”.

In a post to Facebook, Zuckerberg said he had “a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric”, but that “ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinised out in the open”.

In audio of a call Zuckerberg recently had with employees regarding Trump’s rhetoric, obtained by The Verge, the Facebook founder disagreed with Twitter’s stance to hide messages from the president on the platform.

“If you really believe that a post is going to cause people to go do real-world violence, then that’s not the type of thing that I think we should have up even behind a warning,” he said.

“Some people might be comforted that Twitter took a step, even if it didn’t go all the way. But I don’t personally agree with that step.”

‘We encourage employees to speak openly’

However, Zuckerberg said that this does not mean a future post from Trump will not be removed if he violates a company policy. Zuckerberg’s stance on the matter, while reportedly pleasing some, saw others push for a virtual walkout and other forms of protest.

This Thursday (4 June), employees are set to have their weekly virtual meeting with Zuckerberg where it is expected more questions will be asked internally of Facebook’s policies around hate speech.

A spokesperson for Facebook has said that the company welcomes employee feedback.

“We recognise the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our black community,” the spokesperson said. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic