Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided against removing a controversial post by President Trump about the Minneapolis protests, putting his company in stark contrast to Twitter, which labeled Trump’s comments as “glorifying violence.”
In the post on Thursday night, Trump had said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He also called out Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, telling him to “get his act together and bring the City under control” and then advocated for sending in the National Guard to “get the job done right.”
Under intense pressure, Zuckerberg late on Friday explained that Facebook would take no action. He acknowledged that many people would be upset by the decision, but that his company sides with free expression unless a post can “cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers.”
“We read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,” Zuckerberg said on Facebook about Trump’s post. He denied that the post had incited violence, which would have violated Facebook’s policies.
Zuckerberg, who said his team had been in touch with the White House in preceding hours, pointed to a follow-up post by Trump that he said had “explicitly discouraged violence.” In it, Trump tried to expand on his earlier comment by saying that “looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday.” Trump continued, “I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means.”
Zuckerberg’s comments come amid a heated battle between the Trump administration and social media companies. On Thursday, the President signed an executive order aimed at weakening a federal law that shields social media networks from liability for users’ posts after he had long complained about social media companies unfairly censoring conservatives.
During the past few months, Zuckerberg has positioned Facebook as a protector of free speech and has said he doesn’t think social media companies should be arbiters of truth. As such, Facebook has allowed politicians to lie in political ads while Twitter banned political ads completely.
Twitter also took the unprecedented step on Thursday of obscuring Trump’s original tweet about Minneapolis behind a warning that users must first click. That comes after Twitter labeled another Trump tweet about mail-in ballots as misinformation.
In Friday’s Facebook post, Zuckerberg started with empathy towards the struggle African-Americans face, reciting the names of unarmed black victims Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot by a white men while jogging in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor, who was shot by Louisville police while in her apartment, in addition to George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck. In addressing the president’s comments, Zuckerberg said: “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 added: “I disagree strongly with how the President spoke about this, 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.”