Facebook will not remove an incendiary post from President Donald Trump essentially calling for authorities to enter Minneapolis and open fire on Americans protesting police brutality there, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Friday. Earlier in the day, Twitter flagged identical posts on both the official White House account and the president’s own de facto pulpit for “glorifying violence.”
In these posts, Trump claims to have offered military support to Minnesota’s governor and threatens to send in the National Guard if Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey doesn’t “get his act together and bring the City under control.” He adds that if there’s any pushback from protesting “THUGS”, then “we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts”—a quote skimmed from a notorious Miami police chief that terrorized black communities and sparked riots in the 1960s.
Though Zuckerberg rightly describes these comments as “divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” Facebook ultimately decided to keep the post up because of the platform’s commitment to “free expression” and argues that the allusion to an impending military response is a matter of public interest.
“Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.
“I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, 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 out in clear policies.”
But that’s not what good ol’ Zuck told Congress just a few months ago when answering questions about the company’s controversial fact-checking policy. There, he specifically stated that any content “calling for violence” would be removed while fielding Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s queries. Trump’s post definitely seem to fit that bill, thus calling Facebook’s moderation policies (already a subject of fierce criticism) into question once again for appearing to make exceptions for political big-wigs.
Facebook’s decision comes after a lengthy deliberation process, according to Zuckerberg, during which the company drew heavy criticism for its neutrality and particularly for its contrast to Twitter’s response, which hid Trump’s posts behind a warning within a matter of hours. Internally, opinions seem to have been deeply divided, and several leaked posts show employees decrying Facebook for its lack of action, according to the Verge.
In Zuckerberg’s response, he highlights Trump’s attempt to walk back his remarks with subsequent tweets claiming that the expression wasn’t the threat it very obviously was. The Facebook CEO also throws in a quick jab at Twitter, explaining that if Trump’s post had been found in violation of the platform’s policy against inciting violence, it would have brought the ban hammer down harder than its competitor.
“Unlike Twitter, we do not have a policy of putting a warning in front of posts that may incite violence because we believe that if a post incites violence, it should be removed regardless of whether it is newsworthy, even if it comes from a politician,” Zuckerberg said.
Which is some pretty big talk coming from a platform that did *checks notes* literally nothing in this situation.
Ultimately, Zuckerberg argued that Facebook preserved the president’s comments because “accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.” Not coincidentally, that line of thinking is very similar to the argument Facebook hawked last year when it codified a loophole allowing lies in political campaign aids, which explains why I’m not at all surprised to see Facebook take up the mantle once more and bravely defend politicians and their right to spew shit online.
Updated: 5/20/2020, 5:24 p.m. ET: Added context of Zuckerberg’s previous statements to Congress.
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