Over the weekend, more than 140 scientists who have received funding from the Facebook CEO’s philanthropic group, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg denouncing his spineless response to the president’s most recent inflammatory comments.
Included among them were 60 professors at leading U.S. research institutions, including Harvard University, Standford University, and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), as well as one Nobel laureate. The researchers urged Zuckerberg to “consider stricter policies on misinformation and incendiary language that harms people,” especially given the current unrest over police brutality and racial injustice.
In particular, the group cited Facebook’s decision to leave up a recent Facebook post from President Donald Trump that stated “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in reference to ongoing protests. Last week, Zuckerberg announced that the post—despite being a clear call for officials to open fire on demonstrators—somehow doesn’t violate the platform’s policy against inciting violence.
“We were disconcerted to see that Facebook has not followed their own policies in regards to President Trump, who has used the Facebook platform to spread both misinformation and incendiary statements,” reads the letter obtained by the Washington Post.
“As scientists, we are dedicated to investigating ways to better our world,” the letter continues. “The spread of deliberate misinformation and divisive language is directly antithetical to this goal and we are therefore deeply concerned at the stance Facebook has taken.”
The president’s statement also seems to run afoul of Facebook’s moderation policies based on testimony from Zuckerberg himself. During a Congressional hearing in 2019, Zuckerberg told Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that “If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause, that is calling for violence or could risk imminent physical harm, we will take that content down.”
But when this commitment was put to the test, Zuck bowed out, thus proving what most everyone already suspected: That the same content moderation rules don’t apply to political big wigs on Facebook’s platforms.
“It’s not our job to tell Mark Zuckerberg how to run his company,” University of Utah professor Jason Shepherd, one of the organizers behind the letter, said in an interview with the Post. “But we wanted to at least voice a concern [about] his conflicting missions that we are involved in.”
Facebook’s controversial decision was heavily criticized by its own employees as well, who staged a virtual walkout on Monday in protest. Several internal documents obtained by the Post showed many Facebook workers were appalled by the company’s lack of action. Several asked if Facebook is in some sort of “an abusive relationship” with the president based on its inability to censor his hateful and dangerous rhetoric.
In response to this backlash, Zuckerberg published a Facebook post on Friday that pays plenty of lip service reviewing the company’s policies without outlining any concrete plans for change.