Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, during a questions-and-answers session with employees on Tuesday, defended the company’s decision to not censor or label President Trump’s recent posts — a decision Twitter took the opposite stance on.
Zuckerberg, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times, said Facebook’s approach to free speech shows “that the right action where we are right now is to leave this up.” He was referring to Facebook’s decision to not censor the president’s post from last Friday, where, commenting on rioters and looters, Trump said that “any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The phrase was criticized afterwards because it had been used by Miami’s police chief during the civil rights era.
On Tuesday’s call, Zuckerberg added it was a “tough decision” on whether to leave the president’s post up, but one that was “pretty thorough.”
The decision put Facebook at odds with Twitter, which covered the president’s tweet with a notification, saying it broke its rule against “glorifying violence.” Twitter, by that point, had already fact-checked a tweet from the president earlier in the week — a move that drew the ire of the president; Trump later signed an executive order calling for the Federal Communications Commission to review the broad legal protections tech companies enjoy to avoid being sued for what users post. (Legal experts told TheWrap the executive order is unlikely to lead to any changes.)
Zuckerberg, in a Facebook post on Friday, said he had a “visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” but that Facebook wouldn’t censor the post because Trump didn’t mean to glorify violence. The post came on the same day Zuckerberg and Trump talked, according to Axios and CNBC.
President Trump defended his comment later on Friday as well, saying “looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night,” adding that only “haters” would take issue with it.
Zuckerberg’s decision didn’t sit well with everyone at Facebook, with many employees on Monday staging a virtual walkout in protest of leaving Trump’s post up.
Overall, compared to other tech leaders, Zuckerberg has been more inclined to let politicians say what they want without having Facebook add qualifiers or notifications to their posts.
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told Fox News last week. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Zuckerberg had made similar comments multiple times last year, when Facebook was skewered by many on the left, including Elizabeth Warren, for not fact checking its political ads.