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Tech spent years fighting foreign terrorists. Then came the Capitol riot.

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Photo: Roberto Schmidt / Getty Images. Article by Issie Lapowsky. Protocol – March 8, 2021.

“Nobody’s going to have a hearing if a platform takes down 1,000 ISIS accounts. But they might have a hearing if you take down 1,000 QAnon accounts.”

On a Friday in August 2017 — years before a mob of armed and very-online extremists took over the U.S. Capitol — a young Black woman who worked at Facebook walked up to the microphone to ask Mark Zuckerberg a question during a weekly companywide question-and-answer session.

Zuckerberg had just finished speaking to the staff about the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, the weekend before — and what a difficult week it had been for the world. He was answering questions on a range of topics, but the employee wanted to know: Why had he waited so long to say something?

The so-called Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had been planned in plain sight for the better part of a month on Facebook. Facebook took the event down only a day before it began, citing its ties to hate groups and the threat of physical harm. That turned out to be more than a threat. The extremist violence in Charlottesville left three people dead and dozens more injured. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions later called it an act of “domestic terrorism.”

Zuckerberg had already posted a contrite, cautious message about the rally on Facebook earlier that week, saying the company would monitor for any further threats of violence. But his in-person response to the employee’s question that day struck some on the staff as dismissive. “He said in front of the entire company, both in person and watching virtually, that things happen all over the world: Is he supposed to comment on everything?” one former employee recalled.

“It was something like: He can’t be giving an opinion on everything that happens in the world every Friday,” another former employee remembered.

Facebook’s chief operating officer and resident tactician, Sheryl Sandberg, quickly swooped in, thanking the employee for her question and rerouting the conversation to talk about Facebook’s charitable donations and how Sandberg herself thinks about what to comment on publicly. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the details of this account, but said it lacked context, including that Zuckerberg did admit he should have said something sooner. […]

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