Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been criticized by civil rights leaders over his decision to leave US President Donald Trump’s post on violent protests over George Floyd’s death. Protests have been ongoing in the United States for over a week. The heads of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Color of Change met Zuckerberg and Facebook’s chief operating officer on Monday night to discuss company policies.
"Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook. We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up. He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump’s call for violence against protesters", Vanita Gupta, Sherrilyn Ifill and Rashad Robison said in a statement.
The president’s call for violence referred to by the three civil leaders is a Trump tweet on violent demonstrator behavior, as hundreds of thousands protest the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died at the hands of white police officer. In many cases the protests have resulted in the destruction of shops and buildings, with people looting stores and vandalizing property.
In a tweet cross-posted to Facebook, Trump declared that violent protests dishonor Floyd's memory, and warned that if "the looting starts, the shooting starts", a quote taken from a 1967-era radicalized racist statement by a Florida police chief. Twitter hid the post because it was deemed to incite violence.
Facebook, however, did not hide the post. "Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric. I disagree strongly with how the president spoke about this, but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves, because ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open", Zuckeberg said, commenting on his decision to leave Trump’s post as a publicly viewable message.
Zuckerberg's choice has prompted strong backlash from Facebook users, employees, and senior officials within the social media giant.
Andrew Crow, head of design for Facebook’s Portal video-phone wrote: "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."
The issue will be addressed by the Oversight Board of Academics, an independent body of high-profile academicians invited to participate by Facebook, that will offer non-binding rules on issues concerning social media content moderation. There has been no decision made yet, as the body will not become functional for several more months.