Facebook workers protest Zuckerberg’s stance on Trump

by BLOOMBERG/ pic by AFP

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook Inc employees became increasingly bold in expressing their dismay at CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to take action on incendiary comments posted to the social network by US President Donald Trump (picture), tweeting out criticisms and staging a virtual walkout.

After the president tweeted a message with the words “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in response to protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Twitter Inc for the first time obscured one of his posts, marking it with a warning that it breached service rules by glorifying violence. Facebook’s response to the same content, in a post from Zuckerberg last Friday, was to say, “We think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.”

Several senior figures at Facebook declared their strong disagreement online over the weekend and some employees — working from home because of the pandemic — held a virtual walkout, deciding not to log in to work on Monday in protest.

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavour in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” said Ryan Freitas, director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed. “I apologise if you were waiting for me to have some sort of external opinion. I focused on organising 50+ like-minded folks into something that looks like internal change.”

“Giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy,” wrote Andrew Crow, head of design for Facebook’s Portal product line.

Joining them with individual messages against the passive policy were design manager Jason Stirman, director of product management Jason Toff and product designer Sara Zhang, who tweeted that “internally we are voicing our concerns, so far to no avail”.

One entire engineering team walked out, using a logo that displayed a fist with a heart and the hashtag #takeaction. Many tweets quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African human rights activist: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Daniel Lo Nigro, a senior front-end developer at Facebook, said he hopes something positive comes from the effort. “I’ve been at the company nearly seven years and I have never seen a protest or walkout anywhere near this large,” he said on Twitter.

In a post late on Sunday, Zuckerberg said Facebook is committing “an additional US$10 million (RM42.91 million) to groups working on racial justice”. Noting that the company “has more work to do to keep people safe and ensure our systems don’t amplify bias”, the CEO did notaddress the concern surrounding Trump’s posts on the platform.

Trump made a phone call to Zuckerberg last Friday to discuss the situation, according to people familiar with the matter. Zuckerberg expressed disappointment in Trump’s tone and told him he was putting Facebook in a difficult position, the people said. Facebook had earlier reached out to the White House to see if Trump would change the post. The communication was earlier reported by Axios.

It’s rare for Facebook employees to speak publicly about internal activity unless they have permission from the communications team. The company in the past has punished and discouraged leaking. Now, Facebook has changed that approach.

“We recognise 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,” a Facebook spokesperson said on Monday in a statement. “As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”

Employees walking out won’t have to use up one of their vacation days for the time off, Facebook said. Zuckerberg was scheduled to address the situation in a companywide meeting yesterday.