Dozens of scientists who receive funding through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) say that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s policies on content moderation are detrimental to the Initiative’s mission statement.
Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan cofounded the CZI in late 2015 — an investment firm with a philanthropic mission: “To find new ways to leverage technology, community-driven solutions, and collaboration to accelerate progress in Science, Education, and within our Justice & Opportunity work.”
“The spread of deliberate misinformation and divisive language is directly antithetical to this goal and we are therefore deeply concerned at the stance Facebook has taken,” a letter signed by over 140 CZI-funded scientists says.
Zuckerberg has faced backlash from critics as well as his own employees for his belief that “political speech” shouldn’t be moderated by Facebook — a stance that has repeatedly been tested by President Trump’s social media activity.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is once again facing backlash from critics, but this time those critics are the very scientists whose research he funds.
More than 140 scientists associated with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — the philanthropic investment firm founded by Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan in 2015 — have voiced direct criticism of Facebook’s moderation policies.
In a letter sent to CZI, the scientists argue Facebook’s policies are “directly antithetical” to the Initiative’s mission statement: “To find new ways to leverage technology, community-driven solutions, and collaboration to accelerate progress in Science, Education, and within our Justice & Opportunity work.”
The letter says, “The spread of deliberate misinformation and divisive language is directly antithetical to this goal, and we are therefore deeply concerned at the stance Facebook has taken.”
Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said Facebook and other social networks should not have the power to police speech, including political speech. In a a wide-ranging speech at Georgetown University last year, Zuckerberg said, “We don’t fact-check political ads.” He added, “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. And if content is newsworthy, we also won’t take it down even if it would otherwise conflict with many of our standards.”
This stance has been challenged repeatedly, most recently by a post on Facebook from President Trump, which the scientists specifically cite as the reason for their criticism.
“We were disconcerted to see that Facebook has not followed their own policies in regards to President Trump, who has used the Facebook platform to spread both misinformation and incendiary statements,” the letter to CZI says. “For example, his statement ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ is a clear statement of inciting violence.”
The phrase is reminiscent of a notoriously harsh Miami police chief who invoked the the same language against black Americans during civil rights protests in the late 1960s.
Trump posted his messages to social media platforms, which have their own rules of conduct on free speech. Twitter flagged the post for “glorifying violence,” putting it behind a content warning. Trump’s identical message posted to Facebook remains untouched, despite violating Facebook’s Community Standards for conduct. Zuckerberg said that the post shouldn’t be moderated in any way.
“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 … 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,” Zuckerberg said.
The letter from the scientists pushes Facebook to reconsider its stance: “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.”
In a statement emailed to Business Insider, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative highlighted its distinction from Facebook.
“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropic organization started by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg that is separate from Facebook. We have a separate staff, separate offices, and a separate mission: to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone through our work in science, education, and on issues related to justice and opportunity. 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 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is cochaired by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.
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