[WSMDiscuss] The US is aflame... : Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout to Protest Trump Posts / Zuckerberg Defends Hands-Off Approach

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Tue Jun 2 21:08:11 CEST 2020

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Viruses in movement…, Resistance in movement…, The US in movement…, Workers in movement…, Social media in movement…, Corporations in movement ?

·      Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout to Protest Trump Posts

·      Zuckerberg Defends Hands-Off Approach to Trump’s Posts

[The US is aflame, and the fire is spreading… First, Twitter flagged Trump’s tweets; then Nike, Twitter, and Citigroup aligned themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, and Netflix also took a position; and now Facebook…’s employees…

[When push comes to shove :

Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout to Protest Trump Posts

While Twitter started labeling some of the president’s inflammatory messages, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has said his company should leave them alone

Sheera Frenkel <https://www.nytimes.com/by/sheera-frenkel>, Mike Isaac <https://www.nytimes.com/by/mike-isaac>, Cecilia Kang <https://www.nytimes.com/by/cecilia-kang> and Gabriel J.X. Dance <https://www.nytimes.com/by/gabriel-dance>
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/technology/facebook-employee-protest-trump.html?searchResultPosition=4 <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/technology/facebook-employee-protest-trump.html?searchResultPosition=4>

OAKLAND, Calif. — Hundreds of Facebook employees, in rare public criticism on Monday of their own company, protested executives’ decision not to do anything about inflammatory posts that President Trump had placed on the giant social media platform over the past week.

Many of the employees, who said they refused to work in order to show their support for demonstrators across the country, added an automated message to their digital profiles and email responses saying that they were out of the office in a show of protest.

The protest group — conducting a virtual “walkout” of sorts since most Facebook employees are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic — was one of a number of clusters of employees pressing Facebook executives to take a tougher stand on Mr. Trump’s posts.

Inside the company, staff members have circulated petitions and threatened to resign, and a number of employees wrote publicly about their unhappiness on Twitter and elsewhere. More than a dozen current and former employees have described the unrest as the most serious challenge to the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, since the company was founded 15 years ago.

“The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US President does not warrant defense under the guise of freedom of expression,” one Facebook employee wrote in an internal message board, according to a copy of the text viewed by The New York Times.

The employee added: “Along with Black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark to immediately take down the President’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people.” The Times agreed to withhold the employee’s name.

Mr. Zuckerberg has argued on a number of occasions that Facebook should take a hands-off approach to what people post, including lies from elected officials and others in power. He has repeatedly said the public should be allowed to decide what to believe.

That stand was tested last week when Twitter added fact-check and warning labels to two tweets from the president that broke Twitter’s rules around voter suppression and glorification of violence. But as Twitter acted on Mr. Trump’s tweets, Facebook left his posts on its platform alone <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/technology/twitter-facebook-zuckerberg-trump.html>. Mr. Zuckerberg said Mr. Trump’s posts did not violate the social network’s rules.

President Trump’s post on Facebook.

Mr. Trump’s post on Twitter, which the platform modified [with its flag]

“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a post to his Facebook page on Friday. “But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

Mr. Zuckerberg spoke briefly with Mr. Trump in a telephone call on Friday, according to two people familiar with the matter. The call, which was previously reported by Axios <https://www.axios.com/trump-facebook-zuckerberg-phone-call-d8d1016e-4e17-4906-b4f4-dc3e5c00bca7.html>, was described as “productive,” though it was not clear what was said. Mr. Zuckerberg explained his position to employees in a live-streamed question and answer session later that day.

In a video of the session that was reviewed by The Times, hundreds of employees voiced opposition by posting comments alongside the session, and some questioned whether any black people had been involved in making the decision.

“The lack of backbone, and this weak leadership, will be judged by history. Hate speech should never be compared to free speech,” one employee wrote. “The president (sic) is literally threatening for the National Guard to shoot citizens. Maybe when we’re in the middle of a race war the policy will change.”

Mr. Zuckerberg said the posts were different from those that threaten violence because they were about the use of “state force,” which is currently allowed.

While there was some support for the chief executive during the livestream, the results of an internal poll taken during the session and posted by a staff member showed that more than 1,000 Facebook employees voted against Mr. Zuckerberg’s choice. Nineteen of the respondents said they agreed with the decision.

In response to the walkout on Monday, Mr. Zuckerberg has moved his weekly meeting with employees to Tuesday from Thursday. The meeting will be a chance for employees to question Mr. Zuckerberg directly.

A Facebook spokeswoman said Monday morning that executives welcomed feedback from employees. “We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” said Liz Bourgeois, the spokeswoman. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership.”

Mr. Zuckerberg’s post last week explaining his decision on Mr. Trump’s posts frustrated many inside the company. More than a dozen Facebook employees tweeted that they disagreed with Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision, including the head of design of Facebook’s portal product, Andrew Crow.

An engineer for the platform, Lauren Tan, posted about the situation on Friday. “Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here,” Ms. Tan wrote in a tweet <https://twitter.com/sugarpirate_/status/1266470996162146304>. “Silence is complicity.”

Two senior Facebook employees told The New York Times that they had informed their managers that they would resign if Mr. Zuckerberg did not reverse his decision. Another person, who was supposed to start work at the company next month, told Facebook they were no longer willing to accept a position at the company because of Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision.

Over the weekend, several petitions circulated among Facebook employees calling for the company to make personnel changes and for more diversity of voices among Mr. Zuckerberg’s top lieutenants.

Mr. Zuckerberg, left, with Joel Kaplan, Facebook's vice president of global public policy, in the Senate in 2018. Mr. Kaplan is considered a strong conservative voice in the company.Credit...Tom Brenner/The New York Times

In private online chats, employees have called for the resignation of Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy. Mr. Kaplan is seen as being a strong conservative voice within the company. In 2018, he upset some employees when he sat in the front row of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was a close friend.

Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook but in recent years has turned into an aggressive critic of the company, said Facebook’s decision to leave Mr. Trump’s posts alone was typical of a longtime pattern of behavior among big social media companies.

“Internet platforms that are pervasive — as Facebook and Google are globally — must always align with power, including authoritarians. It is a matter of self-preservation,” Mr. McNamee said. “Facebook has been a key tool for authoritarians in Brazil, the Philippines, Cambodia and Myanmar. In the U.S., Facebook has consistently ignored or altered its terms of service to the benefit of Trump. Until last week, Twitter did the same thing.”

Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, planned to host a call on Monday evening with civil rights leaders who have lashed out publicly against Facebook’s protection of Mr. Trump’s posts. The call was expected to include Vanita Gupta of the National Leadership Conference, Rashad Robinson of Color of Change and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The civil rights leaders said they would push back on Mr. Zuckerberg’s position on Mr. Trump’s posts, which they see as violations of Facebook’s community standards that do not permit voter suppression or the incitement of violence, even by political figures.

“It’s really important for Mark Zuckerberg to contend with the fact that he is prioritizing free expression while our democracy is literally burning,” said Ms. Gupta, who organized the call with the executives.

On Sunday, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote that he would be donating $10 million to groups working on racial justice. The move, coupled with his earlier post expressing solidarity with the demonstrators, did little to quell the internal protest.

Mr. Robinson, the civil rights group leader, said Mr. Zuckerberg’s financial pledge was “one of the most insulting things I’ve ever seen.” The donation of money, he said, doesn’t change Facebook’s policy of protecting Mr. Trump’s comments that contain falsehoods and appear to violate the company’s policies.

Facebook executives have long acknowledged that the company has failed to attract a diverse work force.

“There’s a long history of Facebook, as a company, not seeing or being responsive to black employees,” said Mark Luckie, who quit the company in 2018 and published a memo <https://www.facebook.com/notes/mark-s-luckie/facebook-is-failing-its-black-employees-and-its-black-users/1931075116975013/> titled “Facebook is failing its black employees and its black users.”

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Facebook had a severe lack of diversity, especially among executives, Mr. Luckie said in an interview. “When you don’t have a diverse group of people at the top of the company, you don’t understand the issues involved or why your employees are upset.”

In 2014, 2 percent of Facebook’s employees were black. In 2019, that number had increased to 3.8 percent, according to the company’s diversity report.

In the post to the internal message board, the dissenting Facebook employee ended his comment with a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” the quote read.

Sheera Frenkel reported from Oakland, Mike Isaac from San Francisco, Cecilia Kang from Washington and Gabriel J.X. Dance from Staunton, Va.

Zuckerberg Defends Hands-Off Approach to Trump’s Posts

In a call with Facebook employees, who have protested the inaction on Mr. Trump’s messages, Mr. Zuckerberg said his decision was “pretty thorough”

Mike Isaac <https://www.nytimes.com/by/mike-isaac>, Cecilia Kang <https://www.nytimes.com/by/cecilia-kang> and Sheera Frenkel <https://www.nytimes.com/by/sheera-frenkel>
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/technology/zuckerberg-defends-facebook-trump-posts.html?searchResultPosition=1 <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/technology/zuckerberg-defends-facebook-trump-posts.html?searchResultPosition=1>
SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, on Tuesday stood firmly behind his decision to not do anything about President Trump’s inflammatory posts on the social network, saying that he had made a “tough decision” but that it “was pretty thorough.”

In a question-and-answer session with employees conducted over video chat software, Mr. Zuckerberg sought to justify his position on Mr. Trump’s messages, which has led to fierce internal dissent. The meeting, which had been scheduled for Thursday, was moved up to Tuesday after hundreds of employees protested the inaction by staging a virtual “walkout” <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/technology/facebook-employee-protest-trump.html> of sorts on Monday.

Facebook’s principles and policies around free speech “show that the right action where we are right now is to leave this up,” Mr. Zuckerberg said on the call, the audio of which was heard by The New York Times.

He added that though he knew many people would be upset with the company, a review of its policies backed up his decision. “I knew that I would have to separate out my personal opinion,” he said. “Knowing that when we made this decision we made, it was going to lead to a lot of people upset inside the company, and the media criticism we were going to get.”

Mr. Zuckerberg held firm even as the pressure on him to take action on Mr. Trump’s messages intensified. Civil rights groups said late Monday after meeting with him and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, that it was “totally confounding” that the company was not taking a tougher stand on Mr. Trump’s belligerent posts, which have contributed to the rhetoric around the protests over police violence <https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/george-floyd-protests-minneapolis-new-york-los-angeles?action=click&pgtype=Article&state=default&module=styln-george-floyd&variant=show&region=TOP_BANNER&context=storylines_menu> in recent days. And several Facebook employees have publicly resigned, with one saying the company would end up “on the wrong side of history.”

Facebook’s internal dissent began brewing last week after the social network’s rival, Twitter, added labels to Mr. Trump’s tweets that indicated the president was glorifying violence <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/technology/trump-twitter-minneapolis-george-floyd.html> and making inaccurate statements. The same messages from Mr. Trump also appeared on Facebook. But unlike Twitter, Facebook did not touch the president’s posts <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/29/technology/twitter-facebook-zuckerberg-trump.html>, including one in which Mr. Trump said of the protests in Minneapolis: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

That led to internal criticism, with Facebook employees arguing it was untenable to leave up Mr. Trump’s messages that incited violence. They said Mr. Zuckerberg was kowtowing to Republicans out of fear of being regulated or broken up.

Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg have spent the past five days meeting with employees, civil rights leaders and other angry parties to explain the company’s stance. Mr. Zuckerberg has said Facebook does not want to be an “arbiter of truth.” He has also said that he is for free speech and that what world leaders post online is in the public interest and newsworthy.

But in trying to placate everyone, Mr. Zuckerberg has failed to appease anyone. Employees have continued to revolt, making critical public statements on Twitter, LinkedIn and their personal Facebook pages. And politicians and civil rights organizations have also criticized Mr. Zuckerberg’s position.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, Cecilia Kang from Washington and Sheera Frenkel from Oakland, Calif.


Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded and unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

CURRENT / RECENT publications :

Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? (Indian edition). New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
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