In response to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to not moderate an inflammatory Facebook post from President Donald Trump, Facebook staff staged a “virtual walkout” on Monday to protest the inaction.
Citing free-speech as his main reason for leaving Trump’s post up about the protests sweeping across the United States and the world, Zuckerberg shared that “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.”
On 28th May, Trump posted inciteful comments on Facebook and Twitter labelling the Minneapolis protesters as “thugs” and carelessly went on to mention that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter responded swiftly to the latter comment flagging it as “glorifying violence”.
Although the post was not taken down or moderated, Zuckerberg expressed his personal opinion on Trump’s post saying that he has a “visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.” However, Zuckerberg went on to share that he is also “responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”
In an attempt to quell the backlash against his social media posts, Trump clarified that what he meant was “looting leads to shooting… I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means.”
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The inflammatory phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” has its roots in 1960s when Walter Hadley, then-Chief of Police said in a response to civil unrest that the sole way to manage looters and arsonist is to “shoot them on sight”. Trump denies his knowledge on the phrase’s origin sharing that he has “heard that phrase for a long time, I don’t know where it came from, where it originated.”
Zuckerberg on the other hand, acknowledge that he was aware of the phrase’s historical reference but explained that his reasons for leaving the post up was for public knowledge noting that “the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,”
Brandon Dail, a Facebook employee disagreed with how Zuckerberg handled the matter and lambasted the founder in his Twitter post “It’s crystal clear today that leadership refuses to stand with us.” Addressing staff’s concern and acknowledging how his decision had unsettled them, a spokeswoman shared that Zuckerberg clarified that an in-depth review was done and the decision to leave the post as it is was a right one.
This is not the first time that the Facebook CEO had refused to moderate posts that contain misinformation and/or held menacing tones – further boldening Zuckerberg’s reputation and his opinion that as the world’s leading social network, free speech should prevail.