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Facebook Workers Stage Walkout to Protest Policy on Trump Posts

Facebook employees reportedly staged a virtual walkout on Monday over Mark Zuckerberg's position on recent posts by Trump.
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Facebook employees are not happy with CEO Mark Zuckerberg's handling of incendiary tweets by President Trump.

Dozens of employees reportedly staged a virtual walkout on Monday morning, which followed a weekend of nationwide unrest over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Facebook  (FB) - Get Free Report shares rose 3.0% on Monday to $231.91.

Over the weekend, Trump, referencing the protests, used the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" -- noted by many as both a threat of violence and a phrase with a specific racist history dating to the 1960s. 

While Twitter attached a content warning on that specific tweet, which said it glorifies violence, Facebook did no such thing. And Zuckerberg articulated his views in a follow-up Facebook post, writing that: "though the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the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,"

Over the weekend, high-ranking Facebook employees publicly expressed dismay at Facebook's response to Trump's posts. 

Trump also signed an executive order targeting social media firms last week. Although legal experts doubt the validity of the order, the order threatens to upend the legal precedent that internet firms cannot be held liable for speech that appears on their platforms. 

Zuckerberg appeared on Fox News the following day, reiterating his view that "it wouldn't be right for [Facebook] to do fact checks for politicians; people should be able to hear what politicians have to say.” Zuckerberg has at many points expressed his aversion to the idea that Facebook should arbitrate speech.

"That's a decision that each company makes, and then they face the music," said Ashkhen Kazaryan, director at tech policy think tank TechFreedom. "But the fact that the executive order was issued probably scared the bejesus out of them. The companies are trying to figure out how to operate in this new reality."

On Monday afternoon, Talkspace, a platform for virtual therapy, announced it was pulling out of a content partnership with Facebook over its handling of Trump's posts. 

Events of the past few days are clearly not the first time Facebook has sparked controversy, specifically for its handling of speech by politicians.  

At Facebook's annual investor meeting last week, shareholders decried the company's policy of not fact-checking political advertising, saying it should be eliminated altogether. Shareholders also called for more oversight on civil rights issues and for Facebook to assign an independent board chair in place of Zuckerberg, who serves both as chairman of the board and CEO. 

Investors speaking at the meeting pointed to risks of regulation and ongoing controversies depressing the value of shares, referencing a weeks-long slide in the stock after Facebook disclosed heavier spending on security in 2018. 

Those risks are especially heightened by the COVID-19 crisis and misinformation ahead of the upcoming Presidential election, the shareholders said. 

Owing to Zuckerberg's 60% of voting shares, granted by Facebook's dual-class structure, each of those proposals failed to pass a vote. 

Facebook shares are up 9% year to date.

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