Facebook staff have revolted over the company’s decision to allow US president Donald Trump’s highly inflammatory and dangerous posts to remain on the platform, with a virtual walkout staged and some employees quitting the company.
Last week, Twitter moved to fact-check posts made by Trump on the platform, and hid another post from view for violating its rules.
The post was still left online due to the public interest, but it was hidden behind a message explaining it was glorifying violence, and interaction was restricted.
This led to Trump issuing an executive order threatening to remove the legal protections currently provided to social media companies.
These same posts were made by Trump on Facebook, with the company refusing to take any action on them.
The social media giant’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that social media companies “shouldn’t be the arbiters of truth of everything that people say online”.
“I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the president’s tweets and posts all day,” Zuckerberg posted last week.
“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric, [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 in clear policies.”
But this infuriated a number of Facebook employees, with a virtual walkout staged on Monday.
After logging in, a series of staff left their home working desks over the decision to allow Trump’s post to stay online without any warnings.
A number of Facebook employees took to Twitter to vent their frustrations and support for the walkout.
Facebook product designer Sara Zhang said she participated in the walkout “in solidarity with the black community”.
“Faebook’s recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe,” Zhang posted on Twitter.
“The policy pigeonholes us into addressing harmful user-facing content in two ways: keep content up or take it down. As allies, we must stand in the way of danger, not behind it.”
“I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable,” Facebook design manager Jason Stirman posted. “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.”
“I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up,” Facebook director of product management Jason Toff said. “The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.”
Facebook staff also made their feelings known internally, with chat logs leaked to The Verge.
“I am finding the contortions we have to go through incredibly hard to stomach,” one employee said. “All this points to a very high risk of a violent escalation and civil unrest in November and if we fail the test case here, history will not judge us kindly.”
A Facebook employee who quit the company over the decision posted publicly that the tech giant had been “complicit in the propagation of weaponised hatred” and is “on the wrong side of history”.
“Mark always told us that he would draw the line at speech that calls for violence” software engineer Timothy Aveni posted on Facebook.
“He showed us on Friday that this was a lie. Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric.
“I cannot keep excusing Facebook’s behaviour. Facebook is providing a platform that enables politicians to radicalised individuals and glorify violence, and we are watching the US succumb to the same kind of social media-fuelled division that has gotten people killed in the Philippines, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
“I’m scared for my country and I’m done trying to justify this.”