Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan respond to Chan Zuckerberg Initiative scientists’ open letter on Trump

Mark Zuckberg and Priscilla Chan have penned a response to an open letter sent last week by a group of over 140 scientists who are working on projects funded by the Chan Zuckberberg Initiative. The letter, included in full below, expressed concerns about how Facebook manages misinformation and harmful, offensive and discriminatory language toward specific groups of people — and specifically around its treatment of Trump’s offensive, racist and dangerous rants.

The response from Chan and Zuckerberg thanks the scientists for expressing their concerns, and says specifically that both are “personally […] deeply shaken and disgusted by President Trump’s divisive and incendiary rhetoric,” and it also acknowledges that despite CZI and Facebook existing as wholly separate entities, they obviously share a common leader in Zuckerberg.

The letter goes on to point to some of the recent blog posts and resources that Facebook has published regarding its chosen position, as well as what it will be doing to review its existing policies around its products as they pertain to racial issues and social justice.

The response from CZI’s top leaders does say that Facebook’s policies are not its own, however, and goes on to suggest that from its perspective, it will be committing to doing more around addressing racial inequities and injustice.

Ultimately, the letter from Chan and Zuckerberg doesn’t say very much of substance, and if anything actually re-emphasizes the problem at the core of the letter from the concerned scientists to begin with. It notes the contradiction in having the entities remain separate in terms of elements of their guiding principles while led by a common individual, but doesn’t directly address the main ask of the scientists, which is that Zuckerberg use his position at Facebook to wield the power of that platform for greater social good, not that the CZI change its behavior necessarily.

This is bound to be a recurring tension for CZI and Facebook going forward, given the relative positions and participants in each. It’s unlikely that responses like this one will do much to quell any long-term concerns on the part of CZI researchers and academics.