Mark Zuckerberg Urges Trump to Tone Down His Rhetoric as Rioting Engulfs US Cities

Published June 1st, 2020 - 07:12 GMT
Mark Zuckerberg (AFP File Folder)
Mark Zuckerberg (AFP File Folder)
He later added that ‘It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement.’

President Trump has reportedly been urged by members of his inner circle, including top aide Hope Hicks and outside advisers like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to tone down his rhetoric as the nation’s cities are engulfed by rioting.

The president in recent days has been warned that comments he has posted on Twitter, including inflammatory statements such as ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ could turn off voters he needs to win re-election, Axios is reporting.

Trump is in danger of alienating key voting blocs like suburban women and independents who were key to his 2016 election victory, his advisers fear.

According to Axios, Hicks, who is counselor to the president and is considered one of his more trusted aides, raised concerns about the tweet Trump posted on Friday.

As the violence intensified in Minneapolis, Trump stated in the Friday post: 'I can't stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis... These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen.

‘Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way.

‘Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you.'

He later added that ‘It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement.’ has reached out to both the White House and Facebook seeking comment about the claims made in the Axios report. 

Trump’s tweet was slapped with a disclaimer by Twitter, which flagged the president for violating the company’s rules about glorifying violence.

The president’s aides were also worried about the connotations of the language.

The phrase ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ was made famous by Walter Headley, Miami’s chief of police who was known to be a racist and who used it when describing attempts to put down race riots in the late 1960s.

Trump told reporters that he was unaware of the racially charged history of the phrase.

In trying to clarify, the president later tweeted: ‘Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night - or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot.

‘I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means....

‘It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement.

‘It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media.

‘Honor the memory of George Floyd!’

But Trump returned to his default, combative tone on Saturday morning, tweeting that protesters outside the White House would be ‘greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons’ if they breached the fence.

Others also expressed their worries to the president, including Zuckerberg.

On Friday morning, a company representative raised concerns with the White House about the president’s language and urged Trump aides to moderate his approach.

Later that same day, the president made a phone call to Zuckerberg during which the social network boss ‘expressed concerns about the tone and the rhetoric,’ a source familiar with the call told Axios.

The source added that Zuckerberg ‘didn’t make any specific requests’ to Trump.

Another source told Axios that Zuckerberg let Trump know he personally disagreed with the president’s incendiary rhetoric.

Zuckerberg also told the president that he was putting Facebook in a difficult position.

The next day, Trump tried to show a softer side by expressing sympathy with the family of George Floyd while at the same time denouncing the rioters and looters.

‘The death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis was a tragedy,’ the president said in prepared remarks after watching American astronauts blast off into space from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

‘It should never have happened. It has filled Americans across the country with horror, anger, and grief.’

The president added: ‘I understand the pain that people are feeling.

‘We support the right of peaceful protesters, and we hear their pleas.

‘Unfortunately, what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peaceful protests.

‘The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters, and anarchists.’

Some workers at Facebook are unhappy with the social media giant's decision to not take any action on controversial posts by Trump, despite having been flagged on Twitter.

Some of the employees are calling on Facebook executives to reconsider the decision to keep up Trump's controversial posts about mail-in ballots and the Minnesota protests.

'I have to say I am finding the contortions we have to go through incredibly hard to stomach,' one employee was quoted in an email as reported by The Verge.

'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.' 

However, Facebook and Twitter were aligned in criticizing Trump''s executive order on 'preventing online censorship' which was issued on Thursday. 

Trump signed the order in a bid to strip social media platforms of some of the legal protections that they currently enjoy as 'platforms' rather than 'publishers'. 

Facebook has promised to 'restrict more speech online, not less', while Twitter called the executive order a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law. 

Trump's offensive came after Twitter decided to fact check two of the president's tweets in the form of a hyperlink that were tagged onto his postings. 

After the executive order had been issued, Twitter then flagged a fresh tweet from Trump about the violent Minneapolis protests. 

Twitter said that the tweet violated Twitter policies about glorifying violence.

The tweets were also cross-posted to Facebook. 

Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president of global policy management, explained the company's rationale for not taking action on the mail-in ballot post in a lengthy blog post seen internally by the company's workers. 

'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 stated in the blog posting. 

'If it had, we should have removed the post from our platform altogether because our voter interference policy applies to everyone, including politicians.'

'That said, we do not believe that a private technology company like Facebook should be in the business of vetting what politicians say in the context of a political debate. 

'As is the case with the President's tweets, speech from candidates and elected officials is highly scrutinized and debated. 

'We think people should be allowed to hear what politicians say, make up their own minds and hold politicians to account,' Bickert wrote.

More than 700 employees ended up responding to the posting and asked why the site did not take action on Trump's post about Minnesota protests. 

'Would it be possible to explain in more detail the interpretation of our community standards?' one employee asked. 'Does this post violate them but get an exemption, or is it not violating?' 

On Friday afternoon, it appeared that nobody from the company had responded to the questions from workers.

'It's egregious that nobody from policy has chimed in or provided any sort of context here,' one employee said.

Another worker suggested nobody had responded 'because Facebook's community of employees has demonstrated many times that private deliberations will be leaked to the press and taken out of context.'

'I don't think employees are asking anything here that the public doesn't deserve to know,' a colleague responded.  

'Makes me sad and frankly ashamed,' another worker wrote. 'Hopefully this wasn't the final assessment? Hopefully there is still someone somewhere discussing how and why this is clearly advocating for violence?' 

'It's been said previously that inciting violence would cause a post to be removed. I too would like to know why the goals shifted, and where they are now,' chimed another. 

On Friday, Zuckerberg revealed why the social media platform Facebook chose to keep the controversial posts up on its site.

In a status update shared Friday night, Zuckerberg said that the commander-in-chief's post included a reference to the National Guard and Facebook users therefore had a right to know 'if the government was planning to deploy force'.  

Trump initially shared the post to both Twitter and Facebook shortly before 1am Friday, following a third night of violent protests in Minnesota over the death of black man George Floyd.  

Zuckerberg finally spoke out late Friday evening, stating: 'I've been struggling with how to respond to the President's tweets and posts all day. 

'Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric... But I'm responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.'

He continued: '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.

'We looked very closely at the post that discussed the protests in Minnesota to evaluate whether it violated our policies.'

'We decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.'

The Facebook CEO then explained that Trump later shared a follow-up which 'explicitly discouraged violence'. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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