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Facebook employees stage virtual walkout to protest Trump posts

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has always believed in a hands-off approach when considering what people should and should not be allowed to post.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has always believed in a hands-off approach when considering what people should and should not be allowed to post.Mark Lennihan/Associated Press/Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — Dozens of Facebook employees, in rare public criticism Monday of their own company, protested executives’ decision not to do anything about inflammatory posts that President Trump had placed on the giant social media platform over the past week.

The employees, who said they refused to work in order to show their support for demonstrators across the country, added an automated message to their digital profiles and e-mail responses saying that they were out of the office in a show of protest.

The protest group — conducting a virtual “walkout” of sorts because most Facebook employees are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic — was one of a number of clusters of employees pressing Facebook executives to take a tougher stand on Trump’s posts.

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Inside the company, staff members have circulated petitions and threatened to resign, and a number of employees wrote publicly about their unhappiness on Twitter and elsewhere. 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 defense 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.

The employee added: “Along with Black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark to immediately take down the President’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people.”

Zuckerberg has argued on a number of occasions that Facebook should take a hands-off approach to what people post, including lies from elected officials and others in power. He has repeatedly said the public should be allowed to decide what to believe.

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That stand was tested last week when Twitter added fact-check and warning labels to two tweets from the president that broke Twitter’s rules around voter suppression and glorification of violence. But as Twitter acted on Trump’s tweets, Facebook left them alone. Zuckerberg said Trump’s posts did not violate the social network’s rules.

“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” Zuckerberg said in a post to his Facebook page Friday. “But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

In response to the walkout, Zuckerberg has moved his weekly meeting with employees to Tuesday, rather than Thursday. The meeting will be a chance for employees to question Zuckerberg directly on his decision.

A Facebook spokeswoman said Monday morning that executives welcomed feedback from employees.

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” said Liz Bourgeois, the spokeswoman. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership.”

Zuckerberg’s post last week explaining his decision on Trump’s tweets frustrated many inside the company. More than a dozen Facebook employees tweeted that they disagreed with Zuckerberg’s decision.

An engineer for the platform, Lauren Tan, posted about the situation Friday. “Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here,” Tan wrote in a tweet. “Silence is complicity.”

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