‘We no longer recognise Facebook,’ say early employees

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook’s early employees have lambasted CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s stance on controversial posts by US president Donald Trump.

The employees have written an open letter addressing Facebook’s leadership about the decision not to act on Trump’s inflammatory posts.

Some employees have publicly quit the social media company over the issue and civil-rights leaders who met with Zuckerberg on Monday night denounced his explanation for choosing to leave Trump's posts alone as “incomprehensible”.

Criticism has been mounting after Trump’s social media posts about protests in Minneapolis and across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death became increasingly aggressive.

Reuters reports that criticism of Zuckerberg’s hands-off approach to speech by political leaders reached a crescendo last week, after rival social network Twitter began putting warning labels on several Trump tweets that the platform said contained misleading information and glorified violence.

It says Snapchat likewise took a hard line, booting Trump’s account on Wednesday from a curated “discover” section of its app which promotes fresh content. It said it would not amplify voices inciting “racist violence”.

In their letter, the early employees say Facebook’s leadership must reconsider their policies regarding political speech, beginning by fact-checking politicians and explicitly labelling harmful posts.

“As early employees on teams across the company, we authored the original community standards, contributed code to products that gave voice to people and public figures, and helped to create a company culture around connection and freedom of expression.

“We grew up at Facebook, but it is no longer ours.

“The Facebook we joined designed products to empower people and policies to protect them. The goal was to allow as much expression as possible unless it would explicitly do harm. We disagreed often, but we all understood that keeping people safe was the right thing to do. Now, it seems, that commitment has changed.

“We no longer work at Facebook, but we do not disclaim it. We also no longer recognise it. We remain proud of what we built, grateful for the opportunity, and hopeful for the positive force it can become. But none of that means we have to be quiet. In fact, we have a responsibility to speak up,” the employees say.

According to the employees, today, Facebook’s leadership interprets freedom of expression to mean they should do nothing – or very nearly nothing – to interfere in political discourse.

They note the company’s leadership has decided that elected officials should be held to a lower standard than those they govern.

This exposes two fundamental problems, say the employees.

“First, Facebook’s behaviour doesn’t match the stated goal of avoiding any political censorship. Facebook already is acting, as Mark Zuckerberg put it on Friday, as the ‘arbiter of truth’. It monitors speech all the time when it adds warnings to links, downranks content to reduce its spread, and fact-checks political speech from nonpoliticians.

“This is a betrayal of the ideals Facebook claims. The company we joined valued giving individuals a voice as loud as their government’s – protecting the powerless rather than the powerful.”

Click here to read the full letter.

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