Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, October 23, 2019.
Erin Scott | Reuters
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday said a post by President Donald Trump in which he says “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” does not violate the company’s policies and will remain online.
“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” Zuckerberg said in his post. “But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”
On Thursday night, Trump posted on Twitter and Facebook regarding protests this week in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of police. Trump referred to protesters as “THUGS” and warned that the military was on its way to Minneapolis. “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote on Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter placed a label warning users about Trump’s violent rhetoric, which they have to dismiss before they can view his tweet. Twitter is also preventing users from liking or retweeting the tweet.
In contrast, Facebook has decided to leave the post up in its entirety.
Facebook decided to leave the post up because the company’s position is that it “should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” Zuckerberg wrote.
“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,” Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg added that Facebook’s policies regarding the incitement of violence allows discussion around the use of state force.
“We think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Our policy around incitement of violence allows discussion around state use of force, although I think today’s situation raises important questions about what potential limits of that discussion should be.”
Within the company’s internal social networks, employees have asked Facebook leadership to reconsider the decision, according to a report from The Verge. One employee, Brandon Dail, took to Twitter to voice his disagreement, saying “Trump’s glorification of violence on Facebook is disgusting and it should absolutely be flagged or removed from our platforms.”
Zuckerberg has had a connection to Trump since the start of his presidency in 2017 through Peter Thiel, a tech investor and Facebook board member. Thiel was a contributor to Trump’s 2016 campaign and is an informal advisor on tech matters to the president. Trump hosted Zuckerberg and Thiel at a private White House dinner in October.
Earlier this week, Zuckerberg told CNBC he did not think social networks should be fact-checking political discourse. Facebook, however, can remove politicians’ posts if they could lead to voter suppression, cause people to harm themselves or lead to violence.
“People can agree or disagree on where we should draw the line, but I hope they understand our overall philosophy is that it is better to have this discussion out in the open, especially when the stakes are so high,” Zuckerberg wrote.