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Facebook in turmoil over refusal to police Trump’s posts

SAN FRANCISCO, June 1, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – The clash between Twitter
and Donald Trump has thrust rival Facebook into turmoil, with
employees rebelling against CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to sanction
false or inflammatory posts by the US president.

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to
change his mind,” Ryan Freitas, the design director of Facebook’s News
Feed, tweeted Sunday, adding that he was organizing about 50 other
employees who share his view.

At the root of the discord is Twitter’s unprecedented intervention
last week when it tagged two Trump tweets about mail-in ballots with
messages urging people to “get the facts.”

Zuckerberg reacted by telling Fox News that private social media
platforms “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people
say online.” Trump retweeted the interview.

On Friday, Twitter responded once again to a Trump tweet, this time
after he used the platform to warn protesters outraged by the death at
police hands of an unarmed black man that “when the looting starts,
the shooting starts.”

Twitter covered up the tweet with a message warning it “violated
Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.” Viewers had to click on the
message to see the underlying tweet.

The message also was posted on Facebook, but Zuckerberg decided to
let it stand unchallenged.

“I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets
and posts all day,” he wrote Friday in a post.

“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of
divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.”

But, Zuckerberg went on to say that “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.”

– Network in revolt –

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Twitter and Facebook both have in place systems to combat
disinformation and dangerous content — appeals to hatred, harassment,
incitement to violence and the like.

But Facebook exempts political personalities and candidates from
these restrictions.

Zuckerberg’s position has not gone down well with many of his
employees, who turned to Twitter and Medium to express their
disapproval.

“I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not
acceptable,” Jason Stirman, a member of Facebook’s research and
development team, wrote on Twitter.

Other Facebook employees spoke out on Sunday.

David Gillis, a member of the design team who specializes in product
safety and integrity, said he believed Trump’s looting and shooting
tweet “encourages extra-judicial violence and racism.”

“While I understand why we chose to stay squarely within the four
corners of our violence and incitement policy, I think it would have
been right for us to make a ‘spirit of the policy’ exception that took
more context into account,” he wrote.

Nate Butler, a Facebook product designer, added: “I need to be clear
– FB is on the wrong side of this and I can’t support their stance.
Doing nothing isn’t Being Bold. Many of us feel this way.”

– A presidential call –

To make matters worse, US media revealed Sunday that Zuckerberg and
Trump spoke by telephone on Friday.

The conversation was “productive,” unnamed sources told the Axios
news outlet and CNBC. Facebook would neither confirm nor deny the
reports.

The call “destroys” the idea that Facebook is a “neutral arbiter,”
said Evelyn Douek, a researcher at Harvard Law School.

Like other experts, she questioned whether Facebook’s new oversight
board, formed last month to render independent judgments on content,
will have the clout to intervene.

On Saturday, the board offered assurances it was aware there were
“many significant issues related to online content” that people want
it to consider.

“We will make decisions without regard to Facebook’s economic,
political or reputational interests, in a fair, transparent and
politically neutral manner,” it said.

Facebook, meanwhile, is directly affected by Trump’s counter-attack
against Twitter.

The president signed a decree Thursday attacking one of the legal
pillars of the US internet, Section 230, which shields digital
platforms from lawsuits linked to content posted by third parties
while giving them the freedom to intervene as they please to police
the exchanges.

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