Whitmer asks Facebook to take on 'violent and hateful speech'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to ensure that "violent and hateful speech" on the social media platform doesn't undermine the security of the 2020 election.

Whitmer posted on Twitter Friday a two-page letter she wrote Zuckerberg, citing posts on Facebook that called for violence against Muslims and Michigan lawmakers.

"As a lawyer who respects the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression, I realize there is only so much purview social media platforms have for the content posted by their users," Whitmer wrote Zuckerberg. "However, better enforcement of Facebook's own community standards ... this election cycle is needed now more than ever."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist announce their plan to expand the right to overtime for more Michigan workers at a news conference at the Fisher Building in Detroit on Thursday.

Whitmer mentioned Facebook posts that called for U.S. House members from Michigan to be "burned and raped" and "set ... on fire."

The letter came after the Detroit Metro Times reported last week on an anti-Whitmer Facebook page that had formed and featured threats of violence against Whitmer, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly.

"She needs a bullet between her eyes," one poster wrote of Tlaib, according to the Metro Times story.

The Facebook page, People vs Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, is no longer available.

Daniel Roberts, a Facebook spokesman, said the company prohibits hate speech and "anything that incites or advocates for violence."

"While we take action against this type of content — in most cases before it’s reported — even a single piece that’s posted is too many," Roberts said. "We appreciate Governor Whitmer bringing this to our attention and are in touch with her office as we address these concerns."

The first-term Democratic governor ended her letter to Zuckerberg by highlighting William Knudsen, former chairman of General Motors Corp., who was asked to leave his position to lead America's war production effort in the 1940s.

"When asked why he did it, he replied simply, 'This country has been good to me, and I want to pay it back,'" Whitmer wrote. "Mr. Zuckerberg, this country, has been good to you, and history is knocking on your proverbial door. Are you prepared to rise to the occasion, as Knudsen did, to protect our democracy from ongoing attacks?"

In October, Tlaib questioned Zuckerberg during a congressional hearing, asking why he hadn't done more to limit hate groups' use of the social media platform.

Zuckerberg responded that it was difficult for Facebook to police every instance of a hate group using the platform.

"We are not perfect," he added. "We make a lot of mistakes.”

Facebook's community standards say the platform removes content, disables accounts and works with law enforcement "when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week, asking him to take on "violent and hateful speech" on the social media platform.

Some conservative groups and individuals have complained about Facebook showing a liberal bias in taking down their nonviolent messages. 

In 2017, Facebook reinstated Right to Life of Michigan’s advertising account after the anti-abortion nonprofit complained that it had been wrongly targeted in a “fake news” purge. A Facebook spokesperson admitted the ads were taken down by mistake.

Right to Life said it received an automated explanation that the account was disabled “for running misleading ads that resulted in high negative feedback from people on Facebook.”