Civil rights leaders say they're 'disappointed and stunned' after call with Facebook's Zuckerberg and Sandberg
Civil rights leaders who spoke with Mark Zuckerberg said they are shocked by the Facebook CEO’s refusal to take action against an incendiary post by President Donald Trump that Twitter obscured with a warning label.
Leaders of three civil rights groups — Color of Change, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund — released the statement after a Monday night Zoom call with Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg.
“We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up,” wrote the leaders, Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference and Sherrilyn Ifill of LDF. “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. Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook.”
In posts on Twitter and Facebook on Friday, Trump addressed protests over the killing of George Floyd while in police custody, saying, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” While Twitter flagged the tweet with a warning that it violates the company’s rules about “glorifying violence,” Facebook took no action.
Trump and Zuckerberg had a productive call on Friday, people on both sides of the matter told Axios. CNBC confirmed the call. In a Facebook post that day, Zuckerberg said he personally has “a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric” but defended the decision to maintain the post.
Trump denied he intended to incite violence.
On Monday, hundreds of Facebook employees took part in a “virtual walkout” in a rare show of opposition within the company. The employees shared on Twitter that they were ashamed and upset by Zuckerberg’s decision to leave Trump’s post untouched.
“We’re grateful that leaders in the civil rights community took the time to share candid, honest feedback with Mark and Sheryl. It is an important moment to listen, and we look forward to continuing these conversations,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley,” Robinson of Color of Change said Monday’s call was not the first time he has engaged directly with Facebook, saying he’s communicated with the company of the years and even had dinner at Zuckerberg’s house. He accused the company of failing to abide by the policies it has created.
“I think it’s important for those who are watching to know that this is not some knee-jerk reaction in the middle of a crisis, this is a representation of work that we had thought we had done together and then when the crisis hits, some of the things that we had achieved, some of the policies that we had moved, have been thrown out the window,” Robinson said. “Mark Zuckerberg talked to Donald Trump right before he decided not to actually remove the content from Facebook’s platforms that Donald Trump had put out around shooting protesters. He didn’t call civil rights leaders on the other side and have conversations about the civil rights implication. When we’ve had conversations about voting rights and discrimination, what becomes clear a couple of steps in is that Mark Zuckerberg probably knows as much about civil rights and about voter suppression as I know about the sort of deep intricacies of coding and building the sort of technological backend of a social media platform.”
Facebook declined further comment further on Robinson’s remarks.
This is not the first time Facebook has been criticized for its approach to civil rights issues. At a congressional hearing last year, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, chair of the Financial Services Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee, grilled Zuckerberg on Facebook’s record on diversity and civil rights. Beatty told Zuckerberg at the time, “It’s almost like you think this is a joke when you have ruined the lives of many people, discriminated against them.”
Facebook was charged last year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development with “discrimination” in its housing advertising practices after settling a lawsuit with the ACLU over the issue. HUD argued in a complaint that the platform’s design allowed for housing and services ads to be shown in a biased way. As part of its settlement with the ACLU, Facebook agreed to overhaul its advertising targeting for housing, credit and employment.
A former employee wrote in a public memo in 2018 that Facebook has “a black people problem.” The employee, Mark Luckie, who is black, said Facebook’s employees are not as diverse as its user base and described instances of racial discrimination within the company. A spokesperson at the time said Facebook has “been working diligently to increase the range of perspectives among those who build our products and serve the people who use them throughout the world.”
According to Facebook’s latest available diversity report from July 2019, 44.2% of roles in the U.S. in 2019 were held by people who identified as white and only 3.8% were held by people who identified as black. In senior leadership positions, 65.4% of roles were held by people who identified as white and 3.1% by people who identified as black.
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