By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, June 2 (IANS) As angry protests against police brutality rage across America, sparking racial unrest eerily similar to the 1960s, Facebook employees funnelled into Twitter their rage against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s version of free speech and staged a ‘virtual’ walk-out for the first time in the company’s history, on Monday.
Mincing no words, Facebook staffers are tearing into Zuckerberg’s decision to leave untouched US president Donald Trump’s rabble-rousing posts suggesting protesters in Minneapolis could be shot. Senior staffers are threatening to quit and letting it all hang out in the digital public square.
“I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable”, wrote Stirman, who works on research at Facebook, formerly at Twitter.
The backlash against big tech’s ideological blind spot comes less than a week after Trump signed an executive order escalating his war with social media companies over how they monitor content. During the same time span, America’s main streets are witnessing tense standoffs and violence after the brutal killing on MayA25 of George Floyd, 46, an African American in Minneapolis.
Floyd was forced down onto a sidewalk and a police officer dug his knee into Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing. Floyd was handcuffed at the time of his death. A deli employee had called the police accusing Floyd of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.
All of this is happening against the grim backdrop of more than 105,000 coronavirus deaths in the US.
“I’m a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence. I’m not alone inside of FB. There isn’t a neutral position on racism”, Stirman tweeted.
“As allies we must stand in the way of danger, not behind. I will be participating in today’s virtual walkout in solidarity with the black community inside and outside FB”, tweeted Sara Zhang, a Facebook staffer.
Zhang wrote that Facebook’s decision “ignores other options to keep our community safe.”
“The policy pigeon holes us into addressing harmful user-facing content in two ways: keep content up or take it down.
“I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard,” tweeted Jason Toff, a Facebook employee with a verified Twitter handle.
“I’m also joining today’s walkout. Facebook needs to Be Bold and #TakeAction. Black lives matter.” tweeted Ricky, who works on React Native at Facebook.
Trump’s recent executive order coupled with social unrest has reignited the debate about how online platforms are able to publish almost anything, serve as a conduit for a garden variety of content and remain untouched by regulation.
Experts working at the intersection of technology and communication are calling for Congress to revisit Section 230 of the 1996 Communication Decency Act which rewrote telecommunications law and created the playing field that allows companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to thrive.
Section 230 states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.a
Twitter flagged Trump’s tweet about the protests where he said “when the looting starts the shooting starts.” Facebook has let that post stay and Zuckerberg explained his reasoning in a Facebook post last week.
“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,” Zuckerberg wrote.
“Heated debates around content policy will persist for a very long time given our political circumstances, explains Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Platform Accountability Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School,Ain a CNBC op-ed. His argument is that while such content debates keep flaring up, “we will be less focused on the more fundamental problem of economic regulation.”
(Nikhila Natarajan is on Twitter @byniknat)