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Zuckerberg defends stance on Trump posts amid internal Facebook criticism

Zuckerberg defends stance on Trump posts amid internal Facebook criticism
© Greg Nash

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergLou Dobbs goes after Lindsey Graham: 'I don't know why anyone' would vote for him  Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Hillicon Valley: Five takeaways on new election interference from Iran, Russia | Schumer says briefing on Iranian election interference didn't convince him effort was meant to hurt Trump | Republicans on Senate panel subpoena Facebook, Twitter CEOs | MORE on Tuesday defended the company's decision not to take action against President TrumpDonald John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE's controversial posts about protests that have swept the nation in response to the death of George Floyd

During a virtual question-and-answer session with employees, Zuckerberg said that Facebook's policies and principles in regard to free speech showed that "the right action" was to leave the posts up, according to audio of the call heard by The New York Times

“I knew that I would have to separate out my personal opinion,” Zuckerberg said. “Knowing that when we made this decision we made, it was going to lead to a lot of people upset inside the company, and the media criticism we were going to get.”

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A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that "open and honest discussion has always been a part of Facebook's culture. Mark had an open discussion with employees today, as he has regularly over the years." 

"He's grateful for their feedback," the spokesperson added.

The remarks came amid growing backlash inside Facebook over the company's failure to take action against Trump's rhetoric. Several employees have publicly voiced dissent over the company's policies in recent days and hundreds reportedly participated in a "virtual" walkout on Monday to protest the inaction. 

The internal criticism caused Facebook to move the meeting, which had initially been scheduled for Thursday, up to Tuesday, the Times noted. 

Much of the criticism stems from Facebook's decision not to label or remove one of Trump's posts about the escalating protests in Minneapolis. In a post shared on Twitter and Facebook on Thursday night, Trump described protesters as "thugs" and said that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

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Twitter placed a warning on the tweet, claiming that it promoted violence. But in a statement shared on Facebook on Friday, Zuckerberg held 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."

"Our policy around incitement of violence allows discussion around state use of force, although I think today's situation raises important questions about what potential limits of that discussion should be," he said. 

At least seven Facebook employees publicly slammed the move. Jason Toff, director of product management, said he is “not proud” of the company's position.

Civil rights groups also voiced anger on Monday after conducting a phone call with Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg

Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said in a joint statement that they are "disappointed and stunned by Mark's incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up."

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"He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump's call for violence against protesters," they said. 

Facebook and other social media companies have faced persistent scrutiny over how they moderate content and handle misinformation. Those decisions gained more of spotlight last week after Twitter elected to place fact-check labels on Trump's tweets for the first time.

Trump responded by signing an executive order that seeks to target the protections social media platforms have over the content users post on their platforms. 

Updated at 4:30 p.m.