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Former Facebook staffers criticize Zuckerberg for his stance on Trump posts

In an open letter published by The New York Times, they call the CEO's position a "betrayal" of Facebook's ideals.

Zuckerberg has been facing criticism for his decision not to flag or label posts by President Trump.
Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

Facebook's former employees are reportedly calling on CEO Mark Zuckerberg to take action on President Donald Trump's online posts after current staffers have criticized his stance on not fact-checking or labeling them. In a letter published online Wednesday by The New York Times, around three dozen of the social media company's longest-serving employees said the chief executive's position is a "betrayal" of Facebook's community values. 

The employees who signed the letter include engineers, policy executives, designers and Facebook's earliest chief of communications.

"Facebook's leadership must reconsider their policies regarding political speech, beginning by fact-checking politicians and explicitly labeling harmful posts," the letter says. "The Facebook we joined designed products to empower people and policies to protect them."

The letter says Facebook already engages in political censorship by adding warnings to links, down-ranking content so it doesn't spread and fact checking posts by non-politicians. "They have decided that elected officials should be held to a lower standard than those they govern," it adds. "One set of rules for you, and another for any politician, from your local mayor to the president of the United States."

The open letter surrounds the controversy that began last week when Trump tweeted that mail-in ballots for the November election would be "substantially fraudulent." This prompted Twitter to apply a fact-checking label to the comments, saying they contained "potentially misleading information" and providing a link so users could learn more. Trump followed by tweeting that he would take a "big action" against social media companies.

The situation culminated in Trump signing an executive order last Thursday targeting social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The order -- which is now facing a lawsuit -- instructs the Commerce Department to ask the Federal Communications Commission to repeal or restrict Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, a law that protects online platforms from liability for content posted by users.

On Friday, Twitter also labeled a tweet by the president about protests in Minnesota over the death of George Floyd in police custody. This time, Twitter screened out Trump's tweet behind a warning label that says the post violates the site's rules about "glorifying violence." But because the president's words are a matter of public interest, Twitter said, users can click a view button to read Trump's tweet.

By comparison, Zuckerberg took no action, saying social media platforms shouldn't be fact-checking the president. On Tuesday, he defended his refusal to take down or flag any similar posts despite being slammed by civil rights leaders, and despite some Facebook employees staging a protest Monday.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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