SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, on Tuesday stood firmly behind his decision to not do anything about President Trump’s inflammatory posts on the social network, saying that he had made a “tough decision” but that it “was pretty thorough.”
In a question-and-answer session with employees conducted over video chat software, Mr. Zuckerberg sought to justify his position on Mr. Trump’s messages, which has led to fierce internal dissent. The meeting, which had been scheduled for Thursday, was moved up to Tuesday after hundreds of employees protested the inaction by staging a virtual “walkout” of sorts on Monday.
Facebook’s principles and policies around free speech “show that the right action where we are right now is to leave this up,” Mr. Zuckerberg said on the call, the audio of which was heard by The New York Times.
He added that though he knew many people would be upset with the company, a review of its policies backed up his decision. “I knew that I would have to separate out my personal opinion,” he said. “Knowing that when we made this decision we made, it was going to lead to a lot of people upset inside the company, and the media criticism we were going to get.”
Mr. Zuckerberg held firm even as the pressure on him to take action on Mr. Trump’s messages intensified. Civil rights groups said late Monday after meeting with him and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, that it was “totally confounding” that the company was not taking a tougher stand on Mr. Trump’s belligerent posts, which have contributed to the rhetoric around the protests over police violence in recent days. And several Facebook employees have publicly resigned, with one saying the company would end up “on the wrong side of history.”
Facebook’s internal dissent began brewing last week after the social network’s rival, Twitter, added labels to Mr. Trump’s tweets that indicated the president was glorifying violence and making inaccurate statements. The same messages from Mr. Trump also appeared on Facebook. But unlike Twitter, Facebook did not touch the president’s posts, including one in which Mr. Trump said of the protests in Minneapolis: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
That led to internal criticism, with Facebook employees arguing it was untenable to leave up Mr. Trump’s messages that incited violence. They said Mr. Zuckerberg was kowtowing to Republicans out of fear of being regulated or broken up.
Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg have spent the past five days meeting with employees, civil rights leaders and other angry parties to explain the company’s stance. Mr. Zuckerberg has said Facebook does not want to be an “arbiter of truth.” He has also said that he is for free speech and that what world leaders post online is in the public interest and newsworthy.
But in trying to placate everyone, Mr. Zuckerberg has failed to appease anyone. Employees have continued to revolt, making critical public statements on Twitter, LinkedIn and their personal Facebook pages. And politicians and civil rights organizations have also criticized Mr. Zuckerberg’s position.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, Cecilia Kang from Washington and Sheera Frenkel from Oakland, Calif.