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Facebook agonizes over Trump's posts

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Well, let’s see. Lot going on. Enough to warrant a Friday newsletter, certainly. Protests sweeping th
 
May 29 · Issue #517 · View online
The Interface
Well, let’s see. Lot going on. Enough to warrant a Friday newsletter, certainly. Protests sweeping the country, Minneapolis in flames, and journalists arrested for covering the story. Monkeys escaping with COVID-19 samples after attacking a lab assistant. And there in the distance, a rocket explodes.
But for our interests here, the day’s biggest development was that Twitter took an action some of us thought it might never: hiding one of President Trump’s tweets behind an interstitial. And then, once it was posted to the official White House account, putting that behind an interstitial, too. Here’s Jon Porter in The Verge:
Twitter has placed a public interest notice on a tweet from President Trump for breaking the platform’s rules about the “glorification of violence.” However, Twitter has not chosen to remove the tweet from its platform entirely, because it believes it to be in the public interest. Twitter announced the notice in a tweet thread from its official comms account.
The notice means that the tweet is hidden from Trump’s timeline, but is accessible if you visit the tweet directly after clicking a “view” button. The reach of the tweet will also be limited as part of the process. Although users can still retweet it with a comment, they cannot reply to it, retweet it directly, or like it. Twitter also says that its notice means that the tweet won’t be algorithmically recommended on its platform.
The tweet in question used the truly disturbing phrase, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” and ended with an incongruous “Thank you!”
“The phrase ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ has a history,” Pranav Dixit writes in BuzzFeed. “In 1967, Miami Police Chief Walter Headley used it to describe his approach to protests in black neighborhoods.” The current protests originated after yet more incidents of police violence against black people.
One question Twitter’s actions raised is what Facebook would do, given that Trump cross-posted all his tweets to the social network. As I mentioned here Thursday, the companies’ policies are quite similar, but the way those policies are enforced tends to be different in practice. (Mike Isaac and Cecelia Kang document more examples of this in a piece today for the New York Times.)
Through press time, Facebook had chosen not to take any action against the Trump posts, despite what some employees viewed as a clear violation of community guidelines that prohibit the promotion of violent acts. By mid-day Friday, the posts had received more than half a million engagements across Facebook and Instagram.
I had the chance to view some internal posts about the debate the situation has stirred up within Facebook, and posted what I found today at The Verge:
“I have to say I am finding the contortions we have to go through incredibly hard to stomach,” one employee wrote in a comment about the shooting post. “All this points to a very high risk of a violent escalation and civil unrest in November and if we fail the test case here, history will not judge us kindly.” […]
Monika Bickert, the company’s vice president of global policy management, wrote a lengthy post on Workplace, the company’s internal version of Facebook, laying out the company’s rationale for not taking action on the mail-in ballot post.
“We reviewed the claim and determined that it doesn’t break our rules against voter interference because it doesn’t mislead people about how they can register to vote or the different ways they can vote,” Bickert wrote Thursday in a post that received more than 700 comment. “If it had, we should have removed the post from our platform altogether because our voter interference policy applies to everyone, including politicians.”
There’s a lot more in here, and I hope you’ll give the full piece a read and let me know what you think. Facebook has yet to comment, though Mark Zuckerberg planned to address employees later this afternoon, I’m told.
But I’ve already heard back from some employees who think I didn’t present the full range of the debate. “Within my circle people either don’t care or support our position,” one person told me. “This is just using cherry picked comments from a post to promote your narrative.” 
The posts I saw ranged from nervous to critical of the company’s silence to date, but I admittedly saw just a fraction of the hundreds of comments Bickert’s post has generated. I’m open to hearing other perspectives, as I told that employee, and please get in touch if you work at the company and have one.
As we have seen with Twitter this week, there will be consequences if and when Facebook takes action against one or more of the president’s posts. (In a good example of working the refs, Trump approvingly contrasted Zuckerberg’s position with Twitter’s on Thursday.) But the employees I quoted today suggest there will be consequences for inaction, too.
Between the pandemic, near-record unemployment, and a fraught general election, fears that incitements to violence on Facebook could lead to real-world bloodshed have possibly never been so justified. And if Facebook posts by an elected official do spur their followers to commit acts of violence, the important thing to remember is it would not be the first time.

Bonus links
Big tech companies created a task force to work together on the COVID-19 response, but lately it has been falling apart. This effort is separate from the collaboration between Apple and Google on exposure notification. Kristen Grind reports:
In March, a cohort of influential technology leaders formed a task force to devise tech solutions for the pandemic, a signal that the nation’s innovation engine was kicking into gear. Employees of Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft and Amazon were involved, along with the White House and famed venture investors.
Months later, the Technology and Research Task Force’s biggest plans, such as a hospital-bed tracker, contact-tracing tools and a project to ship Kindle devices to nursing-home residents, have failed to materialize amid what members say were disagreements over privacy and other issues. It has cycled through members and a leadership change, and some of the group’s biggest names, from Microsoft and Facebook to the White House, have dropped out or are playing minimal roles.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, is calling for a criminal investigation into Twitter because it lets Iranian politicians create accounts. I’m sure the call has nothing to do with the company’s decision to enforce its speech policies against the president. (Margaret Harding McGill / Axios)
Let’s go through Trump’s terrible internet censorship order, line by line. Read Adi Robertson’s close reading at The Verge and be the smartest person at your Zoom dinner party this weekend.
Amazon-owned Whole Foods fired an employee who had been keeping track of and publicizing incidents of COVID-19 in the company’s facilities. Amazon refuses to make an official count public. Katie Doan says she was fired for “time theft” when she took a 45-minute break to recover from a panic attack. (Lauren Kaori Gurley / Vice)
Facebook released a third experimental app this week from its new products division. Venue is for chatting about live events. OK. (Jon Porter / The Verge)
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki says Google is unlikely to spin it off into a separate company. Unless, you know, the government makes them do it. (Mark Bergen / Bloomberg)
Magic Leap’s CEO stepped down. I continue to look forward to the eventual 5,000-word account of how this company imploded. (Hugh Langley / Business Insider)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly removed guidance encouraging churches to suspend their choirs when they reopen. It’s the latest example of the government cracking down on federal agency speech related to COVID-19, and underscores how social platforms can serve as a leveling force. (Lena H. Sun and Josh Dawsey / Washington Post)
And finally ...
Taylor Swift
After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looting starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November. @realdonaldtrump
Talk to us
Send us tips, comments, questions, and internal Facebook posts: casey@theverge.com and zoe@theverge.com.
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