The list of signatories includes professors from more than 60 leading research institutions, including Harvard University, Stanford University, and University of California San Francisco (UCSF), as well as one Nobel laureate.
“As scientists, we are dedicated to investigating ways to better our world,” the letter says. “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,” on policing content.
The letter calls out one policy stance in particular: Zuckerberg’s decision to allow President Trump to post, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” on Facebook’s platform, a reference to the protests around the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. The scientists argue that the message clearly flouts the company’s rules against inciting violence.
“Thus, like many, we were disconcerted to see that Facebook has not followed their own policies in regards to President Trump,” the letter says.
In a statement, CZI said: “The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropic organization started by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg that 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.”
Both current and former Facebook employees have also protested Zuckerberg’s call on the “shooting and looting” post. Rival social media network Twitter took a different approach to the same message from Trump, adding a label that said the post violated its rules around glorifying violence, but allowing it to remain on the site.
The scientists who signed the letter have all received funding from CZI or Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a nonprofit research organization that greatly expanded coronavirus testing in the San Francisco Bay area and is studying the spread of the virus.
“It’s not our job to tell Mark Zuckerberg how to run his company,” one of three letter organizers, University of Utah professor Jason Shepherd, said in an interview with The Post. “But we wanted to at least voice a concern [about] his conflicting missions that we are involved in.”
“And it’s time for Facebook to stand on the right side of history,” added another organizer, Harvard professor Debora Marks.
The third organizer, Martin Kampmann, a UCSF professor and investigator at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, said that when he reached out to other CZI-backed scientists about the letter, many said they had been contemplating taking a similar step. The Biohub’s work on covid-19 is an incredible force for good for high-risk populations the Bay Area, Kampmann said. “It’s a fantastic organization. We just see that a lot of these values are at odds with what is currently happening at Facebook,” he said.
The letter organizers all received funding through CZI’s program to support innovative research on neurodegenerative disease that would not receive backing from traditional sources. They have never spoken to Zuckerberg, but decided to appeal to him directly to advocate for change.
CZI was founded in 2015 as a limited liability corporation, pledging $3 billion to the goal of eradicating all disease. It also focuses on using technology to address challenges to improve learning experiences for children and to reform the criminal justice system.
In a private letter to CZI employees on Thursday, Chan, who shares the CEO role at CZI with her husband, pledged her support for the Black Lives Matter movement and acknowledged that CZI employees and grantees may feel an inherent tension between Facebook’s policies and their work for the organization.
“I know many of you too are struggling with Facebook’s policies in light of their place in this moment. It is also frustrating to feel like your work is set back by something you don’t have control over. That is a tough weight to carry, especially now — and I am sorry for it,” Chan wrote to the CZI team.
“Although we are separate organizations with different values, missions, and teams — the reality is that we share the same leader and we wouldn’t be here without Facebook’s success,” Chan continued. “It is not binary — and it’s not an easy tension to bridge for many of you who are feeling conflicted. . . . I believe we are driving real progress and change across science, education, criminal justice reform, housing, immigration, in our local community and beyond. It’s making a difference. You are all making a difference here at CZI — and Mark and I feel so lucky to be in this work with you.”