“Zuck off”: Doctors, nurses, scientists rail against Zuckerberg

“Zuck off”: Doctors, nurses, scientists rail against Zuckerberg

San Francisco city officials are considering condemning the decision to name a local public hospital after Mark Zuckerberg—a move backed by nurses and doctors at the hospital, who have been railing against the Facebook co-founder and CEO since the hospital changed its name in 2015.

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar on Tuesday introduced a resolution to the board of supervisors that would condemn the Zuckerberg name. The resolution also urges the city to establish clear rules on naming rights that reflect the city’s “values and a commitment to affirming and upholding human rights, dignity, and social and racial justice.”

Doctors and nurses at the hospital have been campaigning for the hospital to drop the name since it was first introduced in 2015, following a $75 million donation from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician who used to work at the hospital. Over the years, hospital staff have expressed concern that the hospital is associated with Facebook and all of its problems and controversies—including, but not limited to, those related to privacy, unethical research, the dissemination of misinformation, hate speech, and disinformation.

They have written op-eds in local papers, signed petitions, passed out buttons reading “Zuck off,” and circulated letters. In one 2018 demonstration, nurses took a roll of blue masking tape to the large metal sign at the hospital’s main entrance, completely covering up “Zuckerberg” from the name.

Though protest has died down as health care workers struggle to address the raging COVID-19 pandemic, opposition to the name is still smoldering. Robert Brody, an internal medicine physician at the hospital, circulated an email last month asking hospital staff to consider removing “Zuckerberg” from email signatures, presentations, and research papers, according to a report by Stat. He promotes the idea with the tagline “X to the Z.”

“Whether we like it or not, Zuckerberg’s name is attached to our institution,” Dr. Brody wrote in the email. “Looking into a future desperate for institutional funding, our leaders are unlikely to support any effort to change the official name back to San Francisco General Hospital. But that doesn’t mean we, who work here, have to use the Z name or letter.”

In an email to Ars, the hospitals’ chief communications officer, Brent Andrew, said that the hospital is not considering changing its name. The hospital released a statement saying that “The couple’s $75 million gift in 2015 allowed the hospital to acquire state-of-the-art technology we use every single day to save patient lives, and by providing continuing support of renovations, improvements in patient care and education”

Naming rights

However, Andrew noted that the city’s board of supervisors is actually the body that has naming authority over the hospital. In fact, it was the board itself that approved the Zuckerberg name back in 2015.

The supervisors at the time—who are almost entirely different from the supervisors that comprise the current board—noted in its approval of the resolution:

It is customary and the philanthropic standard for hospitals, whether private or public in nature, to recognize major philanthropic gifts from private individuals by providing naming in honor of such gifts, whether the naming is associated with an entire hospital, hospital and health system, or a building or designated space within the institution.

With the resolution, the board agreed to change the name from the “San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center” to the “Priscilla and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.” However, in practice, the hospital almost exclusively goes by “Zuckerberg San Francisco General and Trauma Center” or just ZSFG.

The resolution also stated that the new name “shall remain in place for 50 years.”

It’s unclear if the board can break that agreement. Amid Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, another board member—Aaron Peskin—asked the city attorney to outline a procedure for removing Zuckerberg’s name from the hospital, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The outcome of that inquiry was not released publicly. However, Andrew indicated to Ars that the board does have the power to change the name.

Ongoing fight

Meanwhile, opposition to the name continues at the hospital. Mike Dingle, a retired nursing aide who came up with the “Zuck off” slogan and buttons, suggested to Stat that he was working on “Zuck off” face masks.

And the protest from hospital staff is just one front of the opposition that Zuckerberg and Facebook are currently facing. More than 1,000 companies have stopped buying ads on the social media platform as part of a Stop Hate for Profit campaign. The campaign accuses Facebook of a  "long history of allowing racist, violent, and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform."

 Separately, 260 scientists funded through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) or the CZ Biohub wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg last month urging him to improve Facebook’s policies on hate speech and misinformation.

“The spread of deliberate misinformation and divisive language is directly antithetical” to the mission of CZI, they wrote, which is stated as using technology to “‘help solve some of our toughest challenges—from preventing and eradicating disease, to improving learning experiences for kids, to reforming the criminal justice system’ and ‘to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone.’”


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