As protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis spread throughout the country and even abroad, the conversation has traveled into the realm of corporate America.
Calls to address racism came from the likes of Citigroup CFO Mark Mason and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Box CEO Aaron Levie placed part of the blame squarely on President Donald J. Trump’s shoulders: “He’s spent years stoking tensions that helped amplify today’s pain,” Levie wrote in a tweet.
Perhaps the most comprehensive call for action yet came from Snap CEO Evan Spiegel. In a pages-long letter to employees over the weekend, he called for a non-partisan commission to investigate and recommend restitutions for the African-American community. Tying the protests to wealth inequality, he also called for an overhaul of the tax system with higher estate and corporate tax rates.
“Many of these changes could be ‘bad’ for business in the short term, but because they represent long term investments in the people of our nation, I believe that we will collectively reap tremendous long-term benefits,” he wrote.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined the chorus, committing $10 million to groups working on racial justice. But his social-media platform is under pressure like no other. Twitter recently slapped a warning on a tweet from Trump laden with racist history about the protests, saying it violated rules against “glorifying violence.”
Zuckerberg, though, said Facebook is no “arbiter of truth” and does not plan to police Trump’s messages even if he personally disagrees with their sentiment. Trump’s message in question: “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” (That latter phrase was coined by a Miami police chief in the 1960s about cracking down on black neighborhoods.)
Zuck is trying to position his platform as a neutral pass-through for information amid criticisms from conservatives and progressives, with the executive has sought to massage the situation through soft power: He reportedly jumped on a call Friday with Trump to express concern about the message, per Axios—even after Trump signed an executive order to crack down on social media companies.
But does Facebook have an option, as social media platforms dictate more and more who sees what and how, and as some of the company’s own employees voice dissent over Zuckerberg’s decision?
Even executives in traditional sectors (and in what was Trump’s Manufacturing Council) have come to learn from Charlottesville—no response is not an option.
For some, Zuckerberg’s decision to play mediator is as good as a non-response.