Facebook employees are using Twitter and Facebook’s internal communications tools to register their frustration over CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave up posts by President Donald Trump that suggested protesters in Minneapolis could be shot.
Twitter flagged and demoted Trump’s tweet about the protests when he used the phrase “when the looting starts the shooting starts.” Facebook has let it stand, and Zuckerberg explained his reasoning in a Facebook post Friday.
“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.
Angry demonstrations have spread across the U.S. over the past week, creating some of the most widespread racial unrest since the 1960s. The protests, which have been met by violent police action in many cities, were spurred by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was pinned to the pavement by an officer who put his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck until he stopped breathing.
Trump’s comment evoked the civil-rights era by borrowing a phrase used in 1967 by Miami’s police chief to warn of an aggressive police response to unrest in black neighborhoods.
On Monday, dozens of Facebook employees staged a virtual “walkout” to protest the company’s decision not to touch the Trump posts according to a report in the New York Times, which cited anonymous senior employees at Facebook. The Times report says dozens of Facebook workers “took the day off by logging into Facebook’s systems and requesting time off to support protesters across the country.”
Workers also expressed frustration in other ways, including posting on Twitter, speaking to managers and writing on Facebook’s internal communication network.
Though virtual, this was the first time that Facebook workers have staged a walkout in the company’s history. Employees at the social media giant have been less outspoken than their counterparts at other tech companies such as Google and Twitter.
“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,” tweeted Jason Toff, a director of product management at Facebook who’s been at the company for a year.
Toff, who has a verified Twitter account, had 131,400 “likes” and thousands of retweets of his comment. He did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Monday.
“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,” Facebook design manager Jason Stirman tweeted.
Stirman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Trump and Zuckerberg spoke on the phone Friday.
In a public Facebook post Friday, Zuckerberg explained why Facebook didn’t take action on Facebook and Instagram posts in which Trump threatened “looting” in Minneapolis would lead to “shooting.”
“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,” Zuckerberg said. “But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”
Axios was first to report the phone call took place.
Twitter had labeled the same post as a glorification of violence.
“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. We have been in touch with the White House today to explain these policies as well,” Zuckerberg wrote in Friday’s post.
Testifying before Congress in October, Zuckerberg said, “If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause, that is calling for violence or could risk imminent physical harm … we will take that content down.” He was answering questions from Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when he made the claim.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted approvingly of Zuckerberg after the Facebook CEO went on Fox News to criticize Twitter’s decision to fact-check the president’s tweets about mail-in ballots in California.