Facebook has inadvertently found itself at the center of controversy emanating from the death of George Floyd, an African-American who died at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, days ago.
The racially-charged development sparked protests across the 50 states of the United States and many countries around the world. The protests were mixed with burning and looting in the US, prompting President Donald Trump to deploy the National Guard Army in a bid to quell the upheaval.
In his statement authorizing the National Guard to halt the unrest, Trump quoted a controversial racial statement from the past: “These thugs are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”,” he wrote on Twitter.
The violence message that concluded his statement violated Twitter’s policy that prohibits promotion of violence, so the social media platform placed a warning notice on the tweet but did not remove it because it was made in the public’s interest.
Trump shared the same statement on Facebook, and it was left unchecked, a development that did not only irk the public but also Facebook staffers. One of the reasons being that overtime, the platform has appeared to be making itself pro right wing.
Before Trump shared the “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” statement, he had got into a brawl with Twitter over his tweet discrediting mail-in voting. Twitter had appended a link on his tweet that provides more information about mail-in voting, and Trump called it “censorship,” and threatened to amend Section 230 of the communication Decency Act to hold social media platforms responsible for anti-conservatives posts.
As the controversy between Twitter and Trump escalated, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg weighed in and took the side of Trump. He said that social media platforms “shouldn’t be acting as an arbiter of truth.” And in justification of his executive order aimed at the review of Section 230 of communication Decency Act, Trump quoted Zuckerberg.
A few days later, following a heavy backlash on Trump’s response to the protests, Zuckerberg found himself defending his inability to take down the looting and shooting statement from Facebook.
“I’ve been struggling on how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day,” Zuckerberg admitted in a post he made on Facebook. “Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric…
“But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression. 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 said he let the controversial post on because it has violated no Facebook policy, though it clearly has a troubling historical reference. He said that Facebook read the post as a warning about state action, not a threat to the public.
However, his efforts to excuse his actions were greeted with further criticism. On Monday, Facebook workers staged a virtual walk out to protest the company’s decision to allow Trump’s statement on the platform. There was a report that Trump had a telephone conversation with Zuckerberg after he criticized Twitter for fact-checking the former, and that has further heightened people’s concern on where the Silicon Valley giant stands on the issue of morality.
Though Zuckerberg has doled out $10 million to support the movement against racial injustice, the gesture is failing to change the perception that the decision not to check controversial posts by Trump and other GOP members has been created.
On Friday, Timothy Aveni, an engineer with Facebook turned in his resignation. He said that the company is being “complicit in the propagation of weaponized hatred.” This is after a host of his coworkers had used their social media pages to fiercely oppose Zuckerberg’s stand on the matter.
As Facebook continues to receive backlash, Zuckerberg has been compelled to engage the company’s employees in a move to review some of the policies. On Friday, he outlined some of the areas that Facebook needs to work on especially in times of crisis.
“We’re going to review potential options for handling violating or partially-violating content aside from the binary leave-it-up or take-it-down decisions. I know many of you think we should have labeled the president’s posts in some way last week,” he said.
The events of the past few days have put Zuckerberg at the center of moral and political tussle, and it will take more than statements to prove what matters more to him.