Facebook is justifying its decision to leave up a post from President Trump that implied protesters in Minneapolis should be shot, arguing that it’s free speech.
“I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on Friday.
Not everyone will agree with Zuckerberg’s view. Facebook’s rival, Twitter, placed a warning label on the same post from Trump, which mentions sending the National Guard to control the protests in Minneapolis. At one point the post says, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” an apparent reference to a quote a Miami police chief said in 1967 during a crackdown on black neighborhoods.
According to Twitter, the line violates the company’s policy on glorifying violence. So in response, the social media platform has placed the tweet behind a warning label, which also prevents additional users from retweeting or liking the content.
However, the same post from the president has remained up on Facebook and Instagram, allowing it to attract over 600,000 likes and reactions collectively on both platforms.
Zuckerberg said he personally disagrees with the language used in Trump’s post about the protests in Minneapolis. “I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day. Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” he wrote. “This moment calls for unity and calmness, and we need empathy for the people and communities who are hurting.”
“But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression,” he added.
The company looked at whether Trump’s post violated Facebook’s own policies against inciting violence. According to Zuckerberg, it did not.
“Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,” he said.
“Our policy around incitement of violence allows discussion around state use of force, although I think today’s situation raises important questions about what potential limits of that discussion should be,” he added. “The President later posted again, saying that the original post was warning about the possibility that looting could lead to violence. We decided that this post, which explicitly discouraged violence, also does not violate our policies and is important for people to see.”
Zuckerberg added that his company has been in contact with the White House in an effort to explain its content policies to the Trump administration.
Facebook’s CEO published his remarks days after he told Fox News that he opposed Twitter’s earlier decision to fact-check two tweets from Trump regarding mail-in balloting. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.” (Twitter’s CEO, however, shot back, and said the fact-checks were designed to help users understand conflicting claims about mail-in balloting.)
Despite Zuckerberg’s attempt to defend the company’s stance, critics of Facebook say the social network is inconsistently applying its rules. They’ve pointed to a Congressional hearing where Zuckerberg said he would take down content from a politician that called for violence or risked causing imminent physical harm.
On Friday, Zuckerberg said his company is constantly reviewing its content moderation policies. But don’t expect any major changes to how Facebook handles the controversial posts Trump often makes on social media.
“I disagree strongly with how the President spoke about this,” Zuckerberg said, “but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves, because ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”