Talkspace and Facebook were recently in negotiations to create a partnership dedicated to providing information and therapy to particular Facebook users. However, after Facebook refused to remove a post from President Donald Trump, which read “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Talkspace CEO, Oren Frank, decided to withdraw from the proposed partnership.
The Parties Involved
Talkspace, which was founded in 2012 by Roni and Oren Frank, is one of the leading online therapy companies in the United States. The program offers its users online therapy with licensed therapists. The company was developed after Roni and Oren had sought out therapy to help them save their marriage; following their experience, they recognized a major problem: Therapy was not easily accessible nor affordable to everyone. As a result, they developed Talkspace to solve the issue of mental health access. Over the years, they have continued to grow and develop their platform, and today have over one million users.
Facebook, the largest social media platform in existence today, had recently partnered with Talkspace in the hope of combating new concerns that Facebook was recognizing in its users – specifically, in the time of the pandemic, Facebook users have been reporting an increase in mental health troubles, with some even being attributed to social media overuse and addiction. The intention of the partnership was to provide educational content for Facebook users, which would be sourced by Talkspace due to their expertise in online counseling. The content would outline various issues that Facebook users had been reporting, such as isolation, anxiety, and fear.
However, the partnership came to a halt following a recent post by President Donald Trump.
The Current State of Affairs
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had been identified as a suspect by the police for using a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. During the encounter, the arresting officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost 8 minutes, even when Floyd reported that he was unable to breath. His last words were just that, “I can’t breathe.” Following the incident, the arresting officers involved were not immediately charged, which prompted communities around the country, and today, around the world, to speak up for justice. The murder has become a symbol of the injustice the black community faces in the United States and has resulted in ongoing protests by demonstrators seeking change and police reform.
In the midst of the demonstrations, some violence and property damage had occurred. –On May 28, he decision was made to deploy the national guard.
The response by President Donald Trump was the following:
“…These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control, but when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
The words chosen by the President, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” were identified by many as promoting violence.
Social Media Response: Facebook Not Abiding By Its Policy
With the outrage of the public, it was necessary that the two largest social media platforms take action; only one chose too.
Twitter flagged the tweet with a “public interest notice” for glorifying violence.” The tweet could then only be seen after users acknowledged a notice stating that the tweet had violated Twitter’s rules against encouraging violence.
Facebook, on the other hand, decided to allow the post to remain, with no action taken.
Facebook itself has a policy that outlines what is permitted, hoping to ensure safety on their platform. According to their community standards claim:
“We aim to prevent potential offline harm that may be related to content on Facebook. While we understand that people commonly express disdain or disagreement by threatening or calling for violence in non-serious ways, we remove language that incites or facilitates serious violence. We remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. We also try to consider the language and context in order to distinguish casual statements from content that constitutes a credible threat to public or personal safety. In determining whether a threat is credible, we may also consider additional information like a person’s public visibility and the risks to their physical safety.”
However, the decision to allow President Trump’s post to remain indicates that the company is not abiding to their own policies. In fact, Facebook’s own employees are speaking up. Timothy Aveni, a Facebook software engineer who resigned after Trump’s post was approved to stay, stated that for some reason, Trump is “permitted to break the rules, since his political speech is “newsworthy.”’ He continued to identify the obvious problem that arises from allowing such language: “Facebook is providing a platform that enables politicians to radicalize individuals and glorify violence, and we are watching the United States succumb to the same kind of social media-fueled division that has gotten people killed in the Philippines, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.”
The final decision to allow the content to remain was made by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. He stated that the decision to keep the post was tough and thorough but followed up with the fact that the national government had the authority to warn the public about the use of force in case violence erupted. The decision not only raised concerns about Facebook policies, but also about the suspected relationship between Mark Zuckerberg and President Donald Trump. “Both men are getting what they want, and it’s fair to wonder whether this is a mere alignment of interests or something more.”
The End of the Partnership Between Talkspace and Facebook
As a result of Facebook’s refusal to act against the post, Talkspace CEO Oren Frank decided to pull out of the deal, stating that he does not support a platform that “incites violence, racism and lies.” The partnership, which was anticipated to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for Talkspace. However, sticking to their standards and beliefs, the dissolution of the partnership was deemed necessary by Frank.
This may be the beginning of something new – with the arising complex and political issues we are witnessing, more companies may hopefully follow their lead and participate in the wave of change and the efforts to stop the spread of misinformation and inflammatory content.