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10/21/2016

Facebook Employees Pushed to Remove Trump’s Posts as Hate Speech ­ WSJ

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http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook­employees­pushed­to­remove­trump­posts­as­hate­speech­1477075392

TECH
Facebook Employees Pushed to



Remove Trump s Posts as Hate Speech

Ruling by CEO Mark Zuckerberg to keep presidential candidate’s posts spurred heated
internal debates

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg ruled in December that it would be inappropriate to censor the candidate. PHOTO: LLUIS
GENE/AGENCE FRANCE­PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

By DEEPA SEETHARAMAN
Updated Oct. 21, 2016 3:09 p.m. ET
Some of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s posts on Facebook have set
off an intense debate inside the social media company over the past year, with some
employees arguing certain posts about banning Muslims from entering the U.S. should
be removed for violating the site’s rules on hate speech, according to people familiar
with the matter.
The decision to allow Mr. Trump’s posts went all the way to Facebook Inc. Chief
Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who ruled in December that it would be inappropriate to
censor the candidate, according to the people familiar with the matter. That decision
has prompted employees across the company to complain on Facebook’s internal
messaging service and in person to Mr. Zuckerberg and other managers that it was
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10/21/2016

Facebook Employees Pushed to Remove Trump’s Posts as Hate Speech ­ WSJ

bending the site’s rules for Mr. Trump, and some employees who work in a group
charged with reviewing content on Facebook threatened to quit, the people said.
Mr. Trump’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment. In a statement provided
Wednesday evening, a Facebook spokeswoman said its reviewers consider the context of
a post when assessing whether to take it down. “That context can include the value of
political discourse,” she said. “Many people are voicing opinions about this particular
content and it has become an important part of the conversation around who the next
U.S. president will be.”

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On Friday, senior members of Facebook’s policy team posted more details on its
policy. “In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people
find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest—even if they might
otherwise violate our standards,” they wrote.
The internal debates shed light on how Facebook has grappled with its position as one of
the biggest sources of political information during a particularly contentious election
cycle.
This week, a controversy bubbled up around Facebook director Peter Thiel, who
recently pledged $1.25 million to support Mr. Trump. In an internal post to employees
confirmed by the company, Mr. Zuckerberg urged tolerance of Mr. Thiel’s political
activity, saying it was key to cultivating diversity. Facebook declined to comment further
on the matter, and Mr. Thiel didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Facebook—which stands to collect an estimated $300 million from online political
advertising this year, according to Nomura analysts—has strived to appear nonpartisan
and neutral, amid complaints that the company and key executives favor Democrats. A
May report from tech blog Gizmodo alleged Facebook contract workers manipulated its
trending topics feature for political purposes. Facebook denied bias, but in August, fired
the contractors so that it could run the feature largely by software.
“They are confronting in a very real way for the first time the political dimensions of
their platform,” said Anna Lauren Hoffmann, who teaches information ethics at the
University of California, Berkeley.

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10/21/2016

Facebook Employees Pushed to Remove Trump’s Posts as Hate Speech ­ WSJ

About 44% of Americans get at least some of their news from Facebook, according to
Pew Research.
The company insists it is a neutral platform for open debate. Yet it has strict rules
around what users can post. The rules, which Facebook has tightened in recent years,
ban discrimination toward people based on their race and religion. Facebook typically
removes content that violates the rules.
Legal experts say Facebook isn’t bound by the Federal Communications Commission’s
equal-time rules, which require radio stations and broadcast networks, with exceptions,
to devote the same airtime to political candidates.
Issues around Mr. Trump’s posts emerged when he posted on Facebook a link to a Dec. 7
campaign statement “on preventing Muslim immigration.” The statement called for “a
total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s
representatives can figure out what is going on.” Mr. Trump has since backed away from
an outright ban based on religion, saying his policies would target immigrants from
countries with a record of terrorism.
Users flagged the December content as hate speech, a move that triggered a review by
Facebook’s community-operations team, with hundreds of employees in several offices
world-wide. Some Facebook employees said in internal chat rooms that the post broke
Facebook’s rules on hate speech as detailed in its internal guidelines, according to
people familiar with the matter.

Content reviewers were asked by their managers not to remove the post, according to
some of the people familiar. Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika
Bickert, later explained in an internal post that the company wouldn’t take down any of
Mr. Trump’s posts because it strives to be impartial in the election season, according to
people who saw the post.
During one of Mr. Zuckerberg’s weekly town hall meetings in late January at the
company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, a Muslim employee asked how the
executive could condone Mr. Trump’s comments. Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged that
Mr. Trump’s call for a ban did qualify as hate speech, but said the implications of
removing them were too drastic, according to two people who attended the meeting. Mr.
Zuckerberg said he backed Ms. Bickert’s call, they said.
Many employees supported the decision. “Banning a U.S. presidential candidate is not
something you do lightly,” said one person familiar with the decision.
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10/21/2016

Facebook Employees Pushed to Remove Trump’s Posts as Hate Speech ­ WSJ

But others, including some Muslim employees at Facebook, were upset that the
platform would make an exception. In Dublin, where many of Facebook’s content
reviewers work, more than a dozen Muslim employees met with their managers to
discuss the policy, according to another person familiar with the matter. Some created
internal Facebook groups protesting the decision, while others threatened to leave.
Employees continued to submit questions for Mr. Zuckerberg’s weekly town hall about
Mr. Trump’s posts for months after, the person familiar said. But the internalcommunications team responded that the question had been answered and the matter
was decided, the person said.
Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

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