Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout Because of Zuckerberg’s Inaction Over Trump Posts

Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images
Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images

Facebook employees have staged a virtual walkout in protest of its CEO’s refusal to remove misleading and inflammatory posts made by President Trump. It’s the first walkout protest in the company’s history, reports the New York Times.

As Facebook employees are still working from home due to covid-19, those in protest logged off Facebook’s systems for the day and set auto-response messages in their emails to say they were out of the office in protest. Many employees also took their frustration to Twitter where they openly disagreed with Zuckerberg’s no take-down policy.

“Giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy. I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen,” said Facebook’s portal head of design, Andrew Crow.

“Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here. I absolutely disagree with it. I enjoy the technical parts of my job and working alongside smart/kind people, but this isn’t right. Silence is complicity,” said Facebook engineer Lauren Tan.

Two senior Facebook employees also told the New York Times that they would resign from the company if Zuckerberg did not reverse his decision. Another person who spoke with the Times was recently offered a position to work at Facebook but turned down the opportunity due to Zuckerberg’s decision.

During an October 2019 Congressional hearing, Zuckerberg told U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that “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.”

Last week, Zuckerberg effectively walked back his statement to U.S. Congress, saying Facebook is not an “arbiter of truth,” and it will not remove nor flag certain posts that Trump made that glorify violence, specifically Trump’s May 28th post where he said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” In contrast, Twitter slapped the same post on its platform with a warning: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” Facebook has yet to do the same.

Speaking to Georgetown University the same month as its congressional hearing about the “importance of protecting free expression,” Zuckerberg said:

“As a principle, in a democracy, I believe people should decide what is credible, not tech companies. Of course there are exceptions, and even for politicians we don’t allow content that incites violence or risks imminent harm — and of course we don’t allow voter suppression. Voting is voice. Fighting voter suppression may be as important for the civil rights movement as free expression has been. Just as we’re inspired by the First Amendment, we’re inspired by the 15th Amendment too.”

Facebook did not flag Trump’s May 26th post about voter suppression. “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent,” said Trump. Twitter labelled Trump’s tweets with a fact-check link, which directs anyone who clicks on it to Twitter’s own page with information disputing Trump’s claims.

Last fall, more than 250 employees clashed with Zuckerberg over Facebook allowing politicians to run false or misleading ads. Facebook is supposedly introducing an option this summer that will allow users to see fewer political ads. It’s not the same as calling politicians out on their lies, but at least we won’t have to be subjected to as many of them.

Late Sunday night, Zuckerberg said that Facebook would be donating $US10 ($15) million to groups fighting racial injustice. He noted that “$US10 ($15) million can’t fix this,” but that he and his wife Priscilla are committed to this work and “expect to be in this fight for many years to come.” Unfortunately, this monetary promise came right after his post explaining why Facebook would not take the same action as Twitter, so it did little to temper unrest within the company.