Do Facebook’s Community Standards Not Apply to Donald Trump?

Technology

Do Facebook’s Community Standards Not Apply to Donald Trump?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

While unrest continues in the United States in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, there has also been an ideological divide in how social media companies are handling conversations on their platforms relating to the widespread protests, police brutality, and Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments and threats to demonstrators.  Only last week, Twitter flagged tweets from the US as “potentially misleading” and then even hid a tweet the next day, alleging that it “glorified violence”. Facebook, on the other hand, has decided to do nothing about it.

While Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has gone for an “enough is enough” approach when it comes to tolerance for lies and hatred on the micro-blogging site, his Silicon Valley counterpart Mark Zuckerberg looks at the issue differently. In an interview, the Facebook founder said social media companies shouldn’t be the “arbiters of truth” and “people should be able to hear what politicians say”.

The decision to “look away” by Facebook has not gone down well with many of its employees. In a show of protest against the company’s decision to not flag inflammatory posts by the President, hundreds of employees conducted a “virtual walkout” by refusing to work and set up an automated out-of-office response. Some, including a Facebook engineer, who worked on misinformation tools, decided to quit. “For years, President Trump has enjoyed an exception to Facebook’s Community Standards…,” he wrote in a strongly worded resignation.

“I am happy to no longer support policies and values I vehemently disagree with,” wrote another employee on Twitter.

As reported by The New York Times, staff members have circulated petitions and threatened to resign, and a number of employees spoke publicly about their unhappiness. More than a dozen current and former employees have described the unrest as the most serious challenge to the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, since the company was founded 15 years ago.

“The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US President does not warrant defence under the guise of freedom of expression,” one Facebook employee wrote in an internal message board, according to a copy of the text viewed by The New York Times.

A few others even took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

Facebook said it would support employees taking part in the virtual walkouts and would not require them to use paid time off to do so. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback,” Facebook said in a statement..

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg tried to win disgruntled employees over a call but was rebuffed. “We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up. He refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump’s call for violence against protesters,” the group said in a statement. They concluded that Zuckerberg “is setting a very dangerous precedent.”

Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at “cracking down” on Twitter and Facebook, vowing “fairness”. The spat between the US President and social companies could well be a defining moment on how we deal with hate speech and problematic content on online platforms.a

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