Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Friday that the social network won't take down a post by President Donald Trump on the Minneapolis protests, despite his own personal feeling that it contained “divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.”
In a 599-word Facebook update, Zuckerberg explained that a Thursday post from Trump’s personal account stating that “once the looting starts, the shooting starts” would be allowed to remain because “people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.” The explanation came about 16 hours after Twitter took action against an identical message posted on its platform, placing a warning label on Trump’s tweet and preventing users from liking or retweeting it.
“I know many people are upset that we've left the President's posts up, but 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,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We looked very closely at the post that discussed the protests in Minnesota to evaluate whether it violated our policies. Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action.”
Facebook’s decision follows a week in which Zuckerberg publicly criticized a separate decision by Twitter to label two Trump tweets about mail-in ballots as misleading. Twitter’s decision sparked allegations of political bias against conservatives and led Trump to sign an executive order on Thursday that sought to undercut the legal protections given to internet companies for content posted on their platforms.
Facebook has since criticized that executive order, noting that eliminating the protections afforded to social media companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act would chill online speech.
On Thursday, Trump wrote that “THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd,” referring to ongoing protests in Minneapolis following the death of a 46-year-old unarmed black man while being arrested by a white officer.
“Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way,” Trump wrote on Facebook and Twitter. “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
The phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" dates to 1967, when Miami Police Chief Walter Headley used it to describe his approach to protests in black neighborhoods. Given the context, Twitter hid the tweet behind an interstitial, allowing users to read it if they clicked through a warning link.
Facebook, as Zuckerberg explained, has taken a different approach.
“Unlike Twitter, we do not have a policy of putting a warning in front of posts that may incite violence because we believe that if a post incites violence, it should be removed regardless of whether it is newsworthy, even if it comes from a politician,” he wrote. “We have been in touch with the White House today to explain these policies as well.”
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on Facebook’s decision.
Following his posts on Thursday night, Trump walked back his message 14 hours later on Friday by explaining on Facebook that his comment about shootings was “spoken as a fact, not as a statement” and meant to reference general violence that may occur during civil unrest. Zuckerberg said that that explanation was taken into account when deciding what to do with the post.
“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,” Zuckerberg wrote.