A number of Facebook employees, protesting the social giant’s failure to take action against Donald Trump’s posts suggesting that government forces would fire at rioting crowds, walked off the job Monday — in virtual fashion, given that most staffers are still working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several hundred of the company’s employees staged the virtual walkout, setting their email out-of-office messages to say they were protesting the situation, according to the New York Times, which first reported on the demonstration.
Facebook, which had more than 48,000 full-time workers as of the end of the first quarter of 2020, did not say how many employees participated in the walkout.
The walkout came after several employees over the weekend voiced their disagreement with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who on Friday explained in a post that he decided to leave up Trump’s inflammatory post to “enable as much expression as possible.” Twitter — for the first time on one of Trump’s tweets — last week added a warning label hiding the offensive post, with the company saying it violated rules against glorifying violence
In response to the walkout, Facebook issued the same statement it provided about individual employees speaking about against Zuckerberg.
“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” the company said. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”
Trump, in a May 29 post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, wrote that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in reference to the unrest in Minneapolis, where protests erupted after the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by city police officers last week. The phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” has a racist legacy: It was used in the late 1960s by Miami’s police chief in speaking about violently suppressing civil unrest in black neighborhoods and by segregationist George Wallace. Trump later claimed he was ignorant of the phrase’s racist implications.
Facebook’s policy about violent speech, according to its Community Guidelines, says, “While we understand that people commonly express disdain or disagreement by threatening or calling for violence in non-serious ways, we remove language that incites or facilitates serious violence. We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety.”
Twitter, in explaining why it added the warning message to Trump’s post, said it “violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”
“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” Ryan Freitas, director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed, said in a tweet Sunday. He said he was “organizing 50+ like-minded folks into something that looks like internal change.”
(Pictured above: Sign at the entrance to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., in support of healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic)