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Zuckerberg-funded researchers push Facebook to block 'incendiary' posts

Scientists funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Biohub speak out against Donald Trump's comments.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has another group pressuring his social media giant to do better at handling today's concerns over racism, protests about it and the police response to those protests. A group of 143 scientists funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative or Chan Zuckerberg Biohub are calling for a stronger effort to stop misinformation and inflammatory posts on Facebook.

In a letter published Saturday, the researchers said Facebook has let President Donald Trump "spread both misinformation and incendiary statements on Facebook" and didn't follow its own policies against inciting violence when it let stand a Trump post that said in part, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

"We urge you to consider stricter policies on misinformation and incendiary language that harms people or groups of people, especially in our current climate that is grappling with racial injustice," said the scientists, all of whom are or were funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative or the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropic organization named after Zuckberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub is a nonprofit medical research institute. The affiliated researchers often work for prestigious academic institutions like Stanford University, the University of California, Yale and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

The affiliated researchers add a new voice to concerns from outsiders and Facebook's own employees about the company's policies and practices amid widespread anti-racism protests around the United States. The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis who died after a white policeman pinned him to the ground with a knee to the neck, sparked the protests. The protests triggered a forceful response by police and tweets by Trump saying "LAW AND ORDER" in all capital letters.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative said in a statement that its offices, staff, operations and mission are separate from those of Facebook. "We are grateful for our staff, partners and grantees in this work and we respect their right to voice their opinions, including on Facebook policies," the organization said.

Similarly, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub said in a statement that it's separate from Facebook and respects the rights of its employees and researchers to voice their opinions.

Facebook didn't respond to a request for comment.

Social media is a great way for people to stay in touch and communicate, but it's been under scrutiny for years because of problems like cyberbullying and election manipulation. Concerns are more intense now with the coronavirus pandemic and the protests over racial inequality. Trump signed an executive order intended to shield right-wing voices on social media platforms, which he's alleged, without evidence, are censoring conservatives.

Twitter has sought to take a more active stance than Facebook in removing posts or adding warning labels. Zuckerberg has defended Facebook's stance but on Friday said the company will review some policies.

Also on Friday, Facebook offered advice to people overseeing Facebook groups when handling racial issues. One tip: "If your admin/moderator team does not include representation from the impacted communities, create opportunities for new and diverse members to join your team," Facebook said.

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