Facebook debate on Black Lives Matter: Why Mark Zuckerberg stepped in

An employee at Facebook has been crossing out a Black Lives Matter note in favor of All Lives Matter on an employees-only signature wall. Mark Zuckerberg has urged respect in a memo, but the debate may well represent the feelings of the American public.

Kay Nietfeld/Reuters
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers a speech at the awards ceremony of the newly established Axel Springer Award in Berlin on Thursday. He recently chastised Facebook employees when one scratched out Black Lives Matter in favor of All Lives Matter on an employee signature board.

Recent whiteboard battles on Facebook's employee signature wall have centered around "Black Lives Matter," with at least one employee inscribing the mantra and another crossing it out in favor of "All Lives Matter."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg objected to this display of political speech and voiced his displeasure in an internal memo, obtained by Michael Nunez of Gizmodo.

"There are specific issues affecting the black community in the United States, coming from a history of oppression and racism," Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in the memo. "'Black lives matter' doesn't mean other lives don't – it's simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve."

The Facebook signature wall in its New York office is a whiteboard with the company logo and the invitation, "Write something here." It features names, notes, and a few drawings, according to The Associated Press.

The Black Lives Matter cross-out battle has apparently been an issue inside the company before, as Zuckerberg wrote that he and other company leaders have told employees to stop crossing out Black Lives Matter messages. Having already heard and ignored the warning, the employees' behavior has escalated from "disrespectful" to "malicious," Zuckerberg wrote.

His memo discussed the free speech implications of both the notes and the cross-outs, probably an appropriate element to include in the discussion at a social media company.

"We've never had rules about what people can write on our wall – we expect everybody to treat each other with respect," he wrote. "Regardless of the content or location, crossing out something means silencing speech."

Having expressed his feelings on the style of discourse appropriate for the company's employee signature wall, Zuckerberg has set up a town hall meeting on March 4 about the Black Lives Matter movement, and the memo noted that investigations into the cross-outs have begun.

The incident does not provide significant insight into the prevailing view of the Black Lives Matter movement among Facebook employees. A minimum of one for and one against is established, assuming both wall-writers were expressing serious feeling. However, poll data, although limited, suggests the employees' views may not be far from those of the American public.

Over three-quarters of likely American voters better identify with the slogan All Lives Matter than Black Lives Matter, and almost 10 percent do not like either slogan, according to the New Jersey-based Rasmussen Reports in an August poll. When split along racial lines, only 31 percent of black voters identify with Black Lives Matter, with around 10 percent of the voters in all other races identifying. A majority of voters from all races said they preferred All Lives Matter.

The disapproval could be partly attributed to how people perceive Black Lives Matter, as 39 percent of American adults described Black Lives Matter as mostly a slogan, rather than a movement, according to a PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll in September. Roughly two-thirds of white Americans think Black Lives Matter distracts from real discrimination issues, and the same number of African Americans agree with it as a movement.

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