Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised sweeping changes to the social network’s internal policies on threats of state use of force and voter suppression after weeks of internal and external pressure at the embattled company.
In a post on his Facebook page on Friday, the 36-year-old billionaire also declared that “Black lives matter,” while noting that he believes that the company’s platforms, which also include WhatsApp and Instagram, “will play a positive role” in overcoming racial injustice in the US and around the world.
The promises come after the company faced backlash from the public and its own employees after it allowed posts last month from President Donald Trump that spread misinformation about voting and suggested that violent action would be taken against protestors amid widespread national demonstrations against racism and police brutality. In his post, which was originally directed to his workers, Zuckerberg said he acknowledged his decision to allow Trump’s posts “left many of you angry, disappointed, and hurt.”
“While we will continue to stand for giving everyone a voice and erring on the side of free expression in these difficult decisions — even when it’s speech we strongly and viscerally disagree with — I’m committed to making sure we also fight for voter engagement and racial justice too,” he wrote in the nearly 1,400-word message.
Zuckerberg’s response follows two weeks of immense pressure from employees who engaged in open revolt to the company’s decisions on Trump’s posts. Those workers publicly hammered their employer on Twitter, engaged in a virtual walkout on Monday, and confronted their CEO, who maintains majority voting control over Facebook, during question-and-answer meetings.
“It’s encouraging to see Zuck post this, but I’ll maintain my skepticism until some sort of action is taken by the company,” one current Facebook employee told BuzzFeed News under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “I do think Zuck is being sincere in all this, I just don’t know if he will be convinced to do anything.”
Zuckerberg’s was less a commitment to any real action, but made several promises that the Facebook CEO said could help “to heal the divisions in our society.” In recent years, critics have railed on Facebook for its algorithmic spreading of misinformation, abetting genocide, and failure to protect its users personal information.
Last week, Trump came under fire for posting on Facebook that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” words that were deemed appropriate by the company and its CEO to leave on its platform. On Friday, Zuckerberg said Facebook will review situations around content that discusses “excessive use of police or state force” or occurs in countries that have “ongoing civil unrest or violent conflicts.”
“We already have precedents for imposing greater restrictions during emergencies and when countries are in ongoing states of conflict, so there may be additional policies or integrity measures to consider around discussion or threats of state use of force when a country is in this state,” he wrote without committing to any specific change in policy.
On voter suppression, Zuckerberg noted that “ there’s a good chance that there will be unprecedented fear and confusion around going to the polls in November, and some will likely try to capitalize on that confusion.”
He then posed a series of rhetorical questions, asking where Facebook should draw the line on what comprises voter suppression. As one possible example, he asked, “If a newspaper publishes articles claiming that going to polls will be dangerous given Covid, how should we determine whether that is health information or voter suppression?”
Zuckerberg also said the company is building a voter hub to help people understand how they can vote, drawing on experiences the social network learned during the coronavirus pandemic and 2016 election.
Notably, the company will also consider ways to label potentially violative content on its platform without having to decide between the two options of leaving it up or taking it down. While company executives had previously derided this idea in past meetings with employees following Twitter’s decision to place some of Trump’s tweets behind warning labels, Zuckerberg said he is open to discussions around the idea. He previously expressed that same sentiment in a company meeting on Tuesday, as reported by Recode.
“In general, I worry that this approach has a risk of leading us to editorialize on content we don’t like even if it doesn’t violate our policies, so I think we need to proceed very carefully,” Zuckerberg wrote on Friday.
Mark Luckie, a former Facebook employee who quit in 2018 because he said he experienced discrimination at the company, was not impressed by Zuckerberg’s post.
“In classic Mark Zuckerberg fashion, there is very little in his note that he and the company can be held accountable for,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Most of the bullet points are ‘we are going to review’ and the most concrete effort — a voter hub — is something that has already been executed previously.”
Zuckerberg also said Facebook would be building products to “advance racial justice” before declaring “Black lives matter.”
Those words carry with them plenty of controversy within Facebook’s walls. In 2016, an employee crossed out the phrase on a whiteboard at the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters and wrote beside it “all lives matter,” stirring outrage.
“Mark can say he stands by the Black community but until he shows us actual proof of this we should not be content with fluffy, PR-friendly statements,” Luckie told BuzzFeed News.