Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg privately expressed concerns to President Donald Trump on Friday about his incendiary post announcing that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase rife with racist implications dating back to unrest in the 1960’s. “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” Miami’s then-police chief said of his department at a 1967 news conference. “They haven’t seen anything yet.” As Axios reports, Facebook reached out to the White House on Friday morning “and urged them to make a change even if it did not violate Facebook’s policies,” a sentiment that Zuckerberg echoed when the president called him later that day. Zuckerberg “didn’t make any specific requests,” according to Axios, but “expressed concerns about the tone and the rhetoric” of Trump’s messaging. Zuckerberg reportedly told Trump “he personally disagreed with” and that put Facebook “in a difficult position.”
Such a phone call taking place is not entirely surprising, given that the Facebook CEO has made it his business to keep a line to Trump open. As my colleague Eric Lutz wrote last fall, Zuckerberg and the president—along with billionaire investor (and Trump-supporting Facebook board member) Peter Thiel—had a secret dinner at the White House, the second meeting between the pair in a month. Zuckerberg’s notion that he can sway Trump on anything—especially his often inflammatory tone—reeks of arrogance. And rather than actually doing something about such divisive rhetoric on the most powerful social platform in the world, which he controls, Zuckerberg is instead privately telling Trump to tone it down, a hands-off approach that has rankled some of the Facebook chief’s own employees.
Several Facebook staffers have turned to Twitter in taking issue with Zuckerberg’s handling of the Trump remarks, according to Bloomberg. “Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” wrote Ryan Freitas, director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed. Andrew Crow, head of design for Facebook’s Portal product line, wrote that “giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy.” And design manager Jason Stirman wrote that he “completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence.”
Zuckerberg’s handling of Trump stands in contrast to the hard line that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took against the president last week, when Twitter for the first time added fact-checking disclaimers to two of Trump’s tweets and marked a third with a warning label for “glorifying violence,” a violation of the company’s policy. As the New York Times notes, it was the first time Twitter “applied that specific warning to any public figure’s tweets.”
Twitter’s recent actions have “prompted a broad fight over whether and how social media companies should be held responsible for what appears on their sites, and was the culmination of months of debate inside Twitter,” which, according to the Times, “had been building an infrastructure to limit the impact of objectionable messages from world leaders” for more than a year. Facebook, however, has left Trump’s posts up, a decision that Zuckerberg said he made “as the leader of an institution committed to free expression” despite claiming to personally disagree with the president’s rhetoric. In a Sunday night post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said “we all have the responsibility to create change” and that the company “[stands] with the Black community.”
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