Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once again defended his decision to let an incendiary post by President Donald Trump stay up on his platform, saying on a staff-wide call leaked to the press that his post suggesting looters would be shot was not inciting violence.
Zuckerberg held the call after employees staged a virtual walkout after his decision to leave up Trump’s post from last week, which called police brutality protesters “THUGS” and warned, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
In a call with about 25,000 employees Tuesday, according to ReCode, Zuckerberg said the company looked into the phrase Trump used and found it didn’t call for people to attack protesters and therefore did not violate the company’s policies.
“We basically concluded after the research and after everything I’ve read and all the different folks that I’ve talked to that the reference is clearly to aggressive policing — maybe excessive policing — but it has no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands,” he said on the call, which was also leaked to Bloomberg News.
Facebook did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment on the call.
The phrase in question, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” originated with a combative Miami police chief during the height of civil rights protests in the 1960s. He uttered the threat while trashing the young, largely Black, people involved in the movement, saying his officers “don’t mind being accused of police brutality.” Trump has denied that repeating the language was a threat and says he was “misunderstood.”
Zuckerberg issued a lengthy statement last week saying that, although “the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.”
Civil rights activists have denounced the innocent interpretation, and several of them issued a joint statement saying Zuckerberg “is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook.”
The decision has also outraged several Facebook employees, one of whom reportedly challenged Zuckerberg on Tuesday’s call to say how many Black people were involved in the decision. He answered that there was one, global diversity officer Maxine Williams, among about six people who made the final call.
At least one Facebook employee, an engineer who worked to stop the spread of misinformation on the platform, has resigned in response to Zuckerberg’s stance on Trump’s post.
Twitter has set itself apart from Facebook by flagging Trump’s post, which he also posted to that platform, by marking it with a warning that it is “glorifying violence.” In order to see the post, users have to click through and remove the warning. Trump claimed the move suppressed his free speech and soon thereafter signed an executive order weakening legal protections for social media companies. But without congressional approval to regulate tech companies, the policy is likely unenforceable.