More than 140 scientists who have received funding and support from Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic organization wrote to the Facebook CEO Saturday expressing concern about how he handled President Donald Trump’s posts on the platform.
The group urged Zuckerberg to “consider stricter policies on misinformation and incendiary language that harms people or groups of people, especially in our current climate that is grappling with racial injustice.”
Three of the people who signed the letter told CNN Sunday that they are extremely grateful for the support of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), but said that the goals of CZI, including using technology to create a better world, were contradicted by Zuckerberg’s actions at Facebook.
CZI was set up by Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan in 2015.
The letter pointed to a post from Trump sent during the ongoing protests against racial injustice, “like many, we were disconcerted to see that Facebook has not followed their own policies in regards to President Trump, who has used the Facebook platform to spread both misinformation and incendiary statements. For example, his statement ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ is a clear statement of inciting violence.”
“As scientists, we are dedicated to investigating ways to better our world. We are proud to be CZI awardees and to help realize CZI’s mission, which is to ‘use technology to help solve some of our toughest challenges — from preventing and eradicating disease, to improving learning experiences for kids, to reforming the criminal justice system’ and ‘to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone.”
But the scientists warned, “The spread of deliberate misinformation and divisive language is directly antithetical to this goal and we are therefore deeply concerned at the stance Facebook has taken.”
The letter was first reported by The Washington Post.
One of the letter’s signatories, Jason Shepherd, PhD, an associate professor at University of Utah, told CNN Sunday he believed scientists like him had not done a good enough job at standing up against misinformation and that it was time to speak out.
Martin Kampmann, PhD, associate professor, University of California, San Francisco, who helped organize the letter, said it was not all about Trump. “This is bigger than Trump; we are feeling very strongly about the responsibility social media platforms have because they are the primary way people get their information.”
Kampmann said the letter’s signatories had grown since it was sent Saturday to more than 200 people backed by CZI.
Jeff MacGregor, a spokesperson for CZI, pointed out in a statement that the organization is separate from Facebook. “We have a separate staff, separate offices, and a separate mission: to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone through our work in science, education, and on issues related to justice and opportunity. We are grateful for our staff, partners and grantees in this work and we respect their right to voice their opinions, including on Facebook policies.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment Sunday.
Another of the letter’s signatories, Debora S. Marks, PhD, associate professor, Harvard Medical School, told CNN she hoped her and her colleagues’ suggestions would be taken seriously by Zuckerberg and Facebook. “Go help save the world, Facebook,” she said.