Mark Zuckerberg defends Facebook as employee quits over refusal to act on Trump posts

James Titcomb
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg - AFP

Mark Zuckerberg has defended his refusal to take action on Facebook posts from Donald Trump, despite a growing employee revolt.

The social network’s founder told staff at a virtual meeting that he would stick by his decision to leave up the US President’s messages, which staff said had inflamed tensions.

It came as a Facebook software engineer became the first to publicly announce he was leaving the company over the controversy, Timothy Aveni said it was “complicit in the propagation of weaponised hatred [and] is on the wrong side of history”.

Last week, Mr Trump had posted on Facebook referring to US protesters in Minneapolis as “thugs” and saying that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Rival social network Twitter had hidden the same message behind a warning label, saying it broke its rules on glorifying violence and prompting a furious response from the White House.

Mr Zuckerberg moved his weekly Q&A with staff from Thursday to Tuesday to address a growing revolt, which saw dozens of staff take the rare step of publicly speaking out against the company. Several staged a “virtual walkout”, taking time off work to protest the decision as demonstrations spread across the US.

On Tuesday, Mr Zuckerberg stood by his decision and said Facebook supported free speech, according to an employee following the meeting. He also acknowledged that many staff agreed with his decision, despite the vocal and public opposition to him. 

Unlike Twitter, Facebook does not have a warning label feature, so the company would have to remove Mr Trump’s post completely if it found it to break the rules, a move that would have enraged the President.

A Facebook spokesperson said: "Open and honest discussion has always been a part of Facebook's culture. Mark had an open discussion with employees today, as he has regularly over the years. He's grateful for their feedback."

Mr Aveni, who worked on Facebook’s team fighting misinformation, said in a Facebook post that: “For years, President Trump has enjoyed an exception to Facebook’s Community Standards; over and over he posts abhorrent, targeted messages that would get any other Facebook user suspended from the platform. He’s permitted to break the rules, since his political speech is ‘newsworthy.’

“Mark always told us that he would draw the line at speech that calls for violence. 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.

“Facebook, complicit in the propagation of weaponised hatred, is on the wrong side of history.”

As protests continue across the US, opposition to Facebook’s decision led the hashtag #DeleteFacebookNow to trend on Twitter.