Several employees have resigned over Facebook's silence on posts made by US President Donald Trump. Facebook has however taken down accounts of white nationalists and fake Antifa.

In this file photo, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, DC on October 17, 2019.
In this file photo, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University in Washington, DC on October 17, 2019. (AFP Archive)

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has defended his decision not to interfere with posts made by US President Donald Trump, US media reported after the social media giant's hands-off policy sparked outrage and prompted some employees to quit.

Social media platforms have faced calls to moderate the president's comments, most recently because of the unrest gripping America in the wake of an unarmed black man's death during arrest as a white policeman knelt on his neck.

The row began last week when Zuckerberg said Facebook would not remove or flag Trump's posts that appeared to encourage violence against those protesting police racism, even as the social media titan Twitter put warning labels on some of the president's tweets over accuracy issues or the glorification of violence.

Zuckerberg told employees in a video conference on Tuesday he talked to Trump on the phone after the decision, and that he "used that opportunity to make him know I felt this post was inflammatory and harmful, and let him know where we stood on it", The New York Times reported, citing a recording of the call.

The CEO was referring to a post by the president that said "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" – the same comment on Twitter was still visible but behind a warning label. 

"We basically concluded after the research and after everything I've read and all the different folks that I've talked to that the reference is clearly to aggressive policing –– maybe excessive policing –– but it has no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands," Zuckerberg said on the call. 

Dissent within Facebook

Facebook's move prompted intense scrutiny and dissent from employees, and it was a "tough decision" over content that had upset him personally, Zuckerberg told around 25,000 staff who had tuned in, according to the tech website Recode, which had obtained a copy of the call.

"I knew that the stakes were very high on this, and knew a lot of people would be upset if we made the decision to leave it up," Zuckerberg said on the call, not backing down from the policy, Recode reported.

But Zuckerberg said during the tense call that Facebook was exploring whether it should amend the policy on such content or find other options to mark it instead of outright removal, according to one person on the call cited by Bloomberg.

A Facebook spokeswoman told The New York Times that Zuckerberg was "grateful" for the employees' feedback.

'Moving the goalposts'

The call came after a number of Facebook employees publicly expressed their anger at the company's policy on incendiary content, with many quitting or threatening to leave.

Zuckerberg had not kept his word about stopping posts that glorify violence, said Timothy Aveni, a software engineer who resigned from the company.

"Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric," Aveni wrote on his Facebook page.

Prior to the staff call, civil rights activists had issued scathing criticism of Facebook's policy.

"We are disappointed and stunned by Mark's incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up," said a statement from three leaders: Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Rashad Robinson of Color of Change.

"He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump's call for violence against protesters. Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook."

Zuckerberg invokes philanthropic work

But in the Tuesday call, Zuckerberg pointed to his other philanthropic work on social causes and even took a shot at other firms who had expressed support for the latest calls for justice, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"We're kind of seeing every corporate CEO across the country right now just stand up and say, 'All right, yeah, black lives matter, we stand with our black community,'", he said, according to a participant in the call quoted by the Journal.

"I think that's important to say and to remind people to say it, but I don't think it takes any particular courage to say those things when there's a huge crisis. What I hope people can look at is the track record that I and other leaders have of focusing on these issues."

Accounts of white nationalist, fake Antifa taken down

Meanwhile, Facebook said on Tuesday said it had suspended accounts associated with white nationalist groups after some advocated bringing weapons to the current wave of anti-racist protests.

Company officials also said they removed accounts falsely claiming allegiance to Antifa in order to bring discredit to the anti-fascist movement.

Antifa adherents have said they focus on defending people from attacks by authorities or vigilantes, but they have been vilified by President Trump who, without citing evidence, said they were instigators of anti-police violence.

Some of the removed white nationalist accounts were associated with the Proud Boys, which Facebook previously classified as a dangerous group. The others had connections to a group called the American Guard, which is now classified the same way.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies