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Facebook Will Review Policies On Posts About State Violence, Voting

Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook will consider labeling some posts that break its rules, rather than simply taking them down or leaving them up.
Mark Lennihan
Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook will consider labeling some posts that break its rules, rather than simply taking them down or leaving them up.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook employees on Friday that the social network will review how it handles some of the most incendiary posts on its platform, including those by President Trump. His announcement follows a revolt by employeesover his decision to do nothing about messages the president posted about violence toward protesters and mail-in voting.

In a memo to staff, Zuckerberg said he wanted "to acknowledge that the decision I made last week has left many of you angry, disappointed and hurt."

Zuckerberg said Facebook will consider labeling posts that violate its rules, a more nuanced approach than the company's current policy, which states that posts should either be removed or left alone. It will also review its policies allowing "discussion and threats of state use of force" and its policies on voter suppression.

Trump wrote in a Facebookpost last week, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," referring to protests over the death of George Floyd, the black man in Minneapolis who was allegedly murdered by police officers. Trump separately claimed, falsely, that California is sending mail-in ballots to all residents.

When Trump made the same statements on Twitter, it put warning labels and fact-checks on his tweets. Facebook, in contrast, said the posts did not break its rules.

Zuckerberg has publicly criticized Twitter's approach. He reiterated his concerns on Friday, even as he said Facebook may do something similar.

"In general, I worry that this approach has a risk of leading us to editorialize on content we don't like even if it doesn't violate our policies, so I think we need to proceed very carefully," he wrote.

Zuckerberg has long said he believes the company should not police what politicians say on its platform. In a company-wide meeting on Tuesday, he said he found Trump's rhetoric offensive, but decided to leave the post up in the interest of letting people see what the president had to say.

That decision has been widely criticized, including inside Facebook. Some employees staged a virtual walkout on Monday and one engineer publicly resigned this week. Former employees called the decision a "betrayal" of Facebook's ideals.

During the staff meeting, Zuckerberg fielded questions from employees who were distressed by his decision and connected it to the lack of diversity at the company, according to staff who were on the call. Many were dismayed when Zuckerberg said that the group of people who made the decision to leave up Trump's post was entirely white except for Maxine Williams, the chief diversity officer, who is black.

Zuckerberg acknowledged these concerns in his memo on Friday. "We're going to review whether we need to change anything structurally to make sure the right groups and voices are at the table," he wrote. "I'm committed to elevating the representation of diversity, inclusion and human rights in our processes and management team discussions."

Like other big tech companies, Facebook's workforce is largely white and Asian. Just under 4% of Facebook's U.S.-based staff is black and 5% is Hispanic, according to the company's most recent diversity report. Among senior leadership, only 3% are black and 3.5% are Hispanic.

One former employee, Mark Luckie, wrote a memo when he left in 2018 accusing the company of "failing its black employees and its black users" through discrimination and problems in representation.

On Friday, Luckie tweeted: "I honestly felt insulted reading Mark's post. I'm an optimistic person and I was excited to see details of concrete change. But there's little to be found there which is hugely disappointing."

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.