Facebook employees are outraged over the company’s “shameful” and “unconscionable” decision not to remove a post from President Donald Trump spreading voting misinformation that could lead to people voting twice.
On Thursday morning, Trump, a frequent source of false and misleading information about mail-in voting and voter fraud, posted potentially unlawful advice to voters on Facebook and Twitter.
“On Election Day, or Early Voting, go to your Polling Place to see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted),” Trump wrote. “If it has you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly. If it has not been Counted, VOTE (which is a citizen’s right to do). If your Mail In Ballot arrives after you Vote, which it should not, that Ballot will not be used or counted in that your vote has already been cast & tabulated. YOU ARE NOW ASSURED THAT YOUR PRECIOUS VOTE HAS BEEN COUNTED, it hasn’t been ‘lost, thrown out, or in any way destroyed.’”
Voting twice is illegal and Trump’s comments were condemned for offering advice that could cause people to break the law and create confusion and delays at polling stations. "The president's idea is a great one for people looking to go to jail,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement.
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Hours before Trump’s post, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced new policies intended to protect the upcoming US election from disruption. Zuckerberg said the company had expanded its voter suppression policy to forbid content containing explicit and “implicit misrepresentations about voting.”
Some Facebook employees felt Trump’s post contained, at the very least, implicit misrepresentations about the voting process. Roughly an hour after Trump’s post appeared, an employee flagged it on the company’s internal discussion forum, Workplace.
“Seems like this already violates our extended policies on voter suppression by misrepresenting how or when to vote. Intentionally voting twice is a felony, right?” they wrote in a Workplace group focused on policy and communications issues.
A person on Facebook’s policy team responded to say Trump’s post was being reviewed by the company’s “Voter Interference subject matter expert[s].”
Multiple employees expressed confusion that the post hadn’t already been deemed violative and removed.
“This is voting misinformation,” said an employee. “Your polling place will not be able to track if your vote had been received.”
Other employees agreed.
“This post [is] essentially urging people to go to their voting place, ask for information that place will not have, and then commit voter fraud by voting twice.”
“This must come down. Following Trump’s advice here will lead people to commit felonies. If they vote in person just as their mail-in votes are being counted, they actually will be double-voting,” said an employee, noting that voters in Washington state can track their mail-in ballot’s status online and do not need to go to a polling station.
“This post is insane, even by the standards that [Trump] has set the past few years. How many people will try doing this and end up being charged with felonies?”
Rather than remove Trump’s post, Facebook eventually decided to add a generic label with information about voting. It later changed that to a label emphasizing the security of mail-in voting. "Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the US and the same is predicted this year. (Source: Bipartisan Policy Center)," the second label reads.
Separately, Facebook said it had removed posts containing video footage of a Trump speech on Wednesday where he suggested people vote twice.
"In violation of our policies, earlier this week President Trump called for people to vote twice and we removed that video when it wasn't shared to correct the record," Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told BuzzFeed News.
She said that for Trump's Thursday post, "we applied the new label we launched yesterday, which clearly notes that voting by mail has a long history of being trustworthy and secure in the U.S."
A Facebook policy employee posted a more detailed explanation for the decision in the Workplace thread.
“While all states prohibit attempts to vote more than once, the post does not explicitly call for people to vote twice,” they wrote. “Rather, it encourages individuals to check the status of the mail-in ballot and, if necessary, to cast a ballot in person. This may be permitted in some jurisdictions under provisional ballot rules. As such, this post does not meet the criteria of our voting interference policies.”
That decision, and the fact that it took hours to make, inspired anger and disbelief among Facebook employees. Many pointed out that the policy team’s reasoning cited the lack of an “explicit” call to vote twice from Trump, even though the newly announced policy specifically said Facebook will remove “implicit” misrepresentations.
"We deserve everything we get now. Truly. I’m ashamed and appalled by this decision."
“Facebook is broken. Another performative announcement by leadership not intended to address any issues,” said one employee.
Several employees said they believed Trump’s post, published just a few hours after Zuckerberg’s announcement, was intended to test the company’s commitment to the new, stricter “implicit” policy.
“I believe the whole purpose of this post was to show how our policies and declarations are all bark and no bite and to prove FB will not have the courage to enforce them,” said an employee, adding that leaving Trump’s post unmoderated makes “a mockery of [Zuckerberg’s] post just a few hours earlier.”
Others criticized how long it took for Facebook to come to a decision. “If each obviously violating post from accounts with massive reach require multi-hour reviews, our new expanded policy is toothless.”
Internal dissent over the incident gathered momentum throughout the day, as employees began posting memes in the Trump post thread, including a famous clip of an NFL coach yelling, “They are who we thought they were!” and an image from a comedy sketch where a Nazi officer asks, “Are we the baddies?”
Apoplectic over Facebook’s handling of the incident, the employee who started the original thread called on the company to release an internal report detailing just how it determined Trump’s post to be non-violative.
“We deserve everything we get now. Truly. I’m ashamed and appalled by this decision,” they wrote.