Facebook employees typically shy away from criticizing the company publicly, but tensions within the company around the site’s responsibilities have reached a boiling point.
In an unusual move, many employees have taken to Twitter to publicly criticize the way Facebook is handling debates around hate speech, freedom of expression, and the moral responsibility of platforms to moderate the content that appears on them.
Workers were incensed by Zuckerberg’s decision not to flag a Trump comment about protests in Minnesota that declared “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase infamously used in the 1960s by Miami’s police chief to justify violence against protesters and later uttered by segregationist politician George Wallace.
Twitter said the tweet “glorified violence” and hid it behind a warning; Zuckerberg said Trump’s statement would stand.
By Monday afternoon, some Facebook employees had blacked out their profile pictures on Twitter, or changed them to a Black Lives Matter symbol. Using #TakeAction, the workers called on Zuckerberg to reconsider his stance, saying “We have the opportunity to stand for free expression and actively be involved in the conversation. We can do better.”
“@Facebook’s decision to not act on posts that incite violence against black people fails to keep our community safe,” said Messenger designer Trevor Phillipi. “I’m asking that we revisit this decision and provide more transparency into the process, inclusive of black leadership.”
“We have a responsibility @Facebook to keep people safe,” tweeted Facebook designer Drew Lepp. “We are calling on leadership to reconsider decisions made last week. #TakeAction and reduce harm.”
In response, a Facebook spokesperson told Digital Trends: “We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community.
“We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership,” the spokesperson continued. “As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”
Employees had sounded off earlier in the day as well.
The high-profile critics from inside Facebook include Jason Stirman, who works in research and development at Facebook and wrote, “I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable. I’m a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence. I’m not alone inside of FB. There isn’t a neutral position on racism.”
Others such as Jason Toff, director of product management at Facebook, echoed that many within the company feel similarly. “I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up,” Toff wrote. “The majority of co-workers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.”
Toff voiced support for Facebook’s competitor Twitter, writing that, “I’m glad to see @Twitter take action,” referring to its blocking of Trump’s tweets promoting violence. “Not taking action is an action in itself.”
Brandon Dail, a user interface engineer at Facebook, was clear in his objections: “Disappointed that, again, I need to call this out: Trump’s glorification of violence on Facebook is disgusting and it should absolutely be flagged or removed from our platforms. I categorically disagree with any policy that does otherwise.”
Dail also emphasized the need for Facebook employees to speak out, saying, “Calling this out is literally the bare minimum employees can do; I understand that being an employee makes me complicit, but I’m doing what I can to voice these concerns internally too. I’m sorry to all the people these policies hurt.”
In response to these kinds of criticisms, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted last night that, “I know Facebook needs to do more to support equality and safety for the Black community through our platforms.” He also pledged to donate $10 million to groups working for racial justice. However, this is unlikely to be enough to mollify critics of the site’s policies.
Facebook workers staged a virtual walk-out Monday, with some changing their internal profile photos to Twitter’s logo, according to the New York Times.
Monday, June 1, 2020
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