Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg conceded in a town-hall meeting with employees this week that the social giant fell down on the job in failing to remove a militia group’s “call to arms” that had urged followers to engage in violence amid the unrest in Kenosha, Wisc., following the shooting of a Black man.
“It was largely an operational mistake,” Zuckerberg said regarding Facebook’s inaction on removing the “Kenosha Guard” group on the platform, even after multiple users had reported it for violations, until after two people were killed in the Wisconsin city.
The CEO made the comments in a companywide meeting Thursday. Zuckerberg posted video from the meeting Friday after his remarks — and an angry backlash among Facebook employees about the situation — were reported by BuzzFeed News.
Law enforcement officials said two protesters in Kenosha, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, were shot and killed Aug. 25 by a 17-year-old Illinois boy, who had traveled to the city intending to engage in violence. Protests erupted in Kenosha after video showed a Kenosha police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back in front of his children on Aug. 23.
Zuckerberg told employees that Facebook had not discovered any evidence that the teenager who is alleged to have murdered the two protesters had a connection to the now-removed Kenosha Guard page.
In the town hall with employees, Zuckerberg said the team that enforces Facebook’s policy against dangerous organizations “is trained to look for symbolism and innuendo” and that the “contractors and reviewers who the initial complaints [about the Kenosha Guard] were funneled to didn’t pick this up. On second review, doing it more sensitively, the team responsible for dangerous organizations recognized that this violated the policies and we took it down.”
Zuckerberg added, “We’re going to continue to enforce our policies and continue evolving the policies to be able to identify more potential dangerous organizations and improve our execution in order to keep on getting ahead of this.”
According to the BuzzFeed News report, several Facebook employees were sharply critical of how the company handled not only the Kenosha Guard group but its failure to ban other dangerous groups like those affiliated with the QAnon conspiracy cult.
“At what point do we take responsibility for enabling hate-filled bile to spread across our services? Anti-Semitism, conspiracy, and white supremacy reeks across our services,” one employee said in a comment posted during the meeting, per BuzzFeed News. Another unidentified staffer said, “Feels like we’re caught in a cycle of responding to damage after it’s already been done rather than constructing mechanisms to nip these issues before they result in real harm.”
Many Facebook employees have been upset about what they perceive as the company’s laissez-faire approach to hate groups and content. In June, hundreds of staffers staged a virtual walkout over Facebook’s failure to take action against Donald Trump’s posts suggesting that government forces would fire on rioting crowds in Minnesota, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Facebook, faced with an advertiser boycott aimed at pressuring the company to improve its policing of hate speech, has announced crackdowns in recent weeks on various fringe groups.
Last week, Facebook said it removed hundreds of pages, groups and Instagram accounts tied to QAnon, a bizarre internet disinformation movement whose followers apparently believe in the existence of a shadowy cabal of anti-Trump cannibal-pedophile sex traffickers that controls the U.S. government. But critics both inside and outside the company have argued that Facebook still isn’t doing enough to combat threats including QAnon, which anti-hate groups have warned can lead to real-world violence.