Pressure On Zuckerberg Grows, As Facebook Old Guard Join Protest

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Employees from the early days of Facebook denounce Mark Zuckerberg over his decision not to act against posts by US President Donald Trump

The pressure continues to build on co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, after nearly three dozen former Facebook employees from its early days posted an open letter to him.

The open letter from the former old guard staffers is a protest at Zuckerberg’s decision not to act on controversial posts by US President Donald Trump.

They branded Zuckerberg’s decision not to act against Trump’s posts as “cowardly” and a “betrayal” of company ideals, Reuters reported.

Open Letter

The criticism of Zuckerberg came in an open letter, that was initially reported by the New York Times.

The arrival of the letter comes at a sensitive time for Zuckerberg and his management team, after they had to defend their decision at a tense all-hands meeting this week after staff (including some senior managers) staged a virtual walk-out, and took to social media to rebuke their employer over the matter.

Zuckerberg had already faced criticism last year after he controversially decided Facebook would not fact-check political advertising on the platform.

“Facebook’s leadership must reconsider their policies regarding political speech, beginning by fact-checking politicians and explicitly labelling harmful posts,” the open letter from the old guard wrote.

“As early employees on teams across the company, we authored the original Community Standards, contributed code to products that gave voice to people and public figures, and helped to create a company culture around connection and freedom of expression,” they said.

“We no longer work at Facebook, but we do not disclaim it,” they wrote. “We also no longer recognize it. We remain proud of what we built, grateful for the opportunity, and hopeful for the positive force it can become. But none of that means we have to be quiet. In fact, we have a responsibility to speak up.”

“Today, Facebook’s leadership interprets freedom of expression to mean that they should do nothing – or very nearly nothing – to interfere in political discourse,” they added. “They have decided that elected officials should be held to a lower standard than those they govern. One set of rules for you, and another for any politician, from your local mayor to the President of the United States.”

“President Trump’s post on Friday not only threatens violence by the state against its citizens, it also sends a signal to millions who take cues from the President,” they added. “Facebook’s policy allows that post to stand alone. In an age of live-streamed shootings, Facebook should know the danger of this better than most.”

That last point was a clear reference to the mass shootings in Christchurch in New Zealand in March 2019, when a gunman massacred 51 Muslims in mosques – an attack that was partly live-streamed on Facebook.

“We are devastated to see something we built and something we believed would make the world a better place lose its way so profoundly,” the old guard wrote. “To current employees who are speaking up: we see you, we support you, and we want to help.”

“To Mark: we know that you think deeply about these issues, but we also know that Facebook must work to regain the public’s trust,” they concluded. “ Facebook isn’t neutral, and it never has been. Fact-checking is not censorship. Labelling a call to violence is not authoritarianism. Please reconsider your position.”

Trump outcry

The open letter comes after Twitter incurred Trump’s ire last week, when for the first time it applied a fact-checking warning to two of the President’s tweets about postal voting, as part of its new policy on misleading information.

Trump responded by threatening to close down social networking firms, and then when nationwide protests began in the United States over the death of George Floyd, he tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

Trump had threatened to deploy first the national guard to Minneapolis, and then the US military to any US state where local governors were reluctant to confront protesters.

Twitter screened Trump’s tweet, saying it violated its rules against glorifying violence, while continuing to make the post accessible. However, that same message remains untouched on Facebook.

Trump followed through on his threat to bring in legislation to regulate social networking firms by signing an executive order, that also pulled federal advertising from those platforms.

The outcry all of this caused, prompted Zuckerberg to to write a post on his own Facebook profile defending his decision not to censor Trump’s posts, saying it is “better to have this discussion out in the open”.

The company later added it would be donating $10 million (£8m) to social justice causes.

Meanwhile Snapchat has followed Twitter’s lead and booted Trump’s account on Wednesday from a curated “discover” section of its app, which promotes fresh content.

It said it would not amplify voices inciting “racist violence.”

Zuckerberg has faced criticism from former staff before, most notably when Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes last year labelled Mark Zuckerberg’s power as “un-American” and called for the firm he helped create to be broken up.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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