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Posted on Jan 6, 2021 at 8:45 pm ET
A member of a pro-Trump mob hit an entrance to the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 to gain access.
Facebook staff were appalled at President Donald Trump’s encouragement to support his supporters when they stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to prevent ratification of a free and fair election.
Staff were terrified and frustrated, and some realized that the platform they helped build and operate had contributed to the wave of fear, disinformation, and chaos that flooded Congress. So they spoke out on an internal message board and some called for Trump to be removed from the platform.
In less than an hour, Facebook tried to silence them. With no apparent explanation, administrators have frozen comments on at least three threads in which employees talked about removing Trump from the site.
« Donald Trump directly instigated a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, » a Facebook employee wrote in a post where comments were later stopped. “We have to close his account now. This is not a moment for half measures. «
» Our employees are actively discussing today’s horrific events internally, « Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois told BuzzFeed News in a statement. She didn’t answer questions about why the company had temporarily paused discussion on some topics.
Alex Stamos, a Stanford professor and former chief security officer of Facebook, said there was no other option but to suspend Trump’s account .
« They don’t want incredibly powerful private actors to choose which democratic actors to speak, and the basis of that concern is protecting that democracy, » he told BuzzFeed News. “But the votes are counted, the president has lost and he is now rejecting democratic will. There are no legitimate arguments to keep him informed.”
While companies can take action against individual posts or tweets, argued Stamos that removing « a piece of content » means little to any of these political actors. Suspension is the only way to discourage this behavior, he said.
« It’s a decision that only needs to be made by Mark « added Stamos, referring to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In Silicon Valley, Facebook is known for facilitating open discussion and debate among more than 50,000 employees under Workplace, an internal social network Thousands of groups where individuals post and comment on current events, the company, and their ways to improve the platform every day.
Recently, the F The use of Facebook restricted some of this freedom of expression. After staff objected to a post on the platform suggesting the president proposed using force against those protesting the police who killed George Floyd, Facebook narrowed political discussion of Workplace. Late last year, Facebook also ordered workers not to raise antitrust issues as the company had been investigated for anti-competitive practices.
Even by those standards, Wednesday’s move was unusual. After Trump posted a video on Facebook attempting to delegitimize the election by labeling it « stolen, » a staff member pointed out that Twitter moved within four minutes to prevent it from happening its platform will be re-shared or brought into contact with it.
« I’m sure we did something to downgrade it, but this is a pretty dangerous area to be in, » they wrote. “I hope we can go further.”
“In response to this behavior, can we get some courage and actual action from the leadership? Your silence is at least disappointing and, in the worst case, criminal, « wrote one.
» That is incredibly daunting. As great as it is to work here, the fact that we are moving slowly and allowing disinformation to spread is a failure not only for us as a company but also for us as employees to allow the company to do so slowly to do. “Staff added to thread.
When the comments came in, Facebook management seemed unable to provide any answers. One person said the sales team had received a company comment that they could share with advertisers in which Facebook spokesman Andy Stone described the violent protests as « shame ». More than an hour after the in-house post rose, a manager said that « dealing with the current situation » is a priority and that they are « turning off comments on this thread for now. » Facebook later took down Trump’s video and Twitter did the same. More than four hours after rioters stormed the Capitol and months since Trump first used Facebook to delegitimize the election, Zuckerberg sent a note to staff describing the day’s events as « a dark moment in the. » History of our Nation « .
» I am personally saddened by this mob violence – it is exactly, « wrote Zuckerberg. « The peaceful transfer of power is vital to our democracy, and we need our political leaders to lead by example and put the nation first. »
Staff have wasted no time questioning their CEO , whose note came out at the same time that Twitter announced that the president would be suspended for at least 12 hours.
« Are we going to suspend Trump’s account like Twitter does? » One employee commented. “He instigates violence and rioting, and any further appeasement seems completely untenable.”
Comments lasted more than an hour before the company bowed to internal and external pressure. Trump will be suspended from both the platform and Instagram, which owns Facebook.
« We have assessed two policy violations against President Trump’s page that will result in a 24-hour functional block, meaning he will be during this one Time to post on the platform, « Bourgeois said in a statement.
Ryan Mac is a senior tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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