More than 140 Zuckerberg-funded scientists call on Facebook to rein in Trump

High-profile researchers urge CEO not to let president spread ‘misinformation and incendiary statements’ amid protests over racial injustice

More than 140 scientists funded by Mark Zuckerberg have said Facebook should not be letting Donald Trump use the social media platform to “spread both misinformation and incendiary statements”.

The researchers, who include more than 60 professors at leading US research institutions and one Nobel laureate, sent the Facebook CEO a letter on Saturday asking him to “consider stricter policies on misinformation and incendiary language that harms people”, especially during the current turmoil over racial injustice.

The letter calls the spread of “deliberate misinformation and divisive language” contrary to the researchers’ goals of using technology to prevent and eradicate disease, improve childhood education and reform the criminal justice system.

Their mission “is antithetical to some of the stances that Facebook has been taking, so we’re encouraging them to be more on the side of truth and on the right side of history, as we’ve said in the letter”, said Debora Marks of Harvard Medical School, one of three professors who organized it.

The others are Martin Kampmann of the University of California, San Francisco, and Jason Shepherd of the University of Utah. All have grants from a Chan Zuckerberg Initiative program working to prevent, cure and treat neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

They said the letter had more than 160 signatories. Shepherd said about 10% were employees of foundations run by Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The letter objects specifically to Zuckerberg’s decision not to act on a post by Trump that stated “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. The letter’s authors called the post “a clear statement of inciting violence”.

Zuckerberg has faced significant backlash, including from Facebook staff, over the choice not to remove Trump’s post this week amid nationwide protests over police brutality. Twitter had both flagged and demoted a Trump tweet using the same language.

In a statement, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative noted that the philanthropic organization was separate from Facebook and said “we are grateful for our staff, partners and grantees” and “respect their right to voice their opinions, including on Facebook policies”.

Some Facebook employees have publicly objected to Zuckerberg’s refusal to take down or label misleading or incendiary posts by Trump and other politicians. But Zuckerberg has so far refused.

On Friday, Zuckerberg said in a post that he would review “potential options for handling violating or partially-violating content aside from the binary leave-it-up or take-it-down decisions”.

Guardian staff and agencies

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