By Katie Paul
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Nearly three dozen former employees from Facebook's <FB.O> early days on Wednesday blasted Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg's decision not to act against incendiary posts by U.S. President Donald Trump as "cowardly" and a "betrayal" of company ideals.
The open letter, initially reported by the New York Times, deepened a crisis facing Facebook's leadership team, who had to defend their decision at a tense all-hands meeting the day prior following an employee walkout over the issue.
Criticism of Zuckerberg's hands-off approach to speech by political leaders crescendoed last week, after rival social network Twitter began putting warning labels on several Trump tweets that the platform said contained misleading information and glorified violence.
Snapchat likewise took a hard line, booting Trump's account on Wednesday from a curated "discover" section of its app which promotes fresh content. It said it would not amplify voices inciting "racist violence."
Facebook, which left the same posts untouched, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
The former employees, including a staffer who opened Facebook's office in Washington, implored Zuckerberg to implement checks on speech by political leaders as it does for other users, including fact-checks and labels on harmful posts.
"The company we joined valued giving individuals a voice as loud as their government's — protecting the powerless rather than the powerful," they wrote.
Facebook's current approach, they said, "is not a noble stand for freedom. It is incoherent, and worse, it is cowardly."
The group warned that Trump's post on Friday, which used the racially charged phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" in reference to protests over the police killing of a black man in Minnesota, could incite violence.
"In an age of live-streamed shootings, Facebook should know the danger of this better than most," they said.
(Reporting by Katie Paul; Editing by David Gregorio)