Facebook staff express discontent over its Trump policies as other internet companies take stands
The civil discontent playing out on social media has seeped into the ranks of the internet companies that are platforms for the protests, especially at Facebook, where workers have gone public with complaints about the social network's policies to keep the company neutral in this charged political environment.
On Sunday evening, a string of Facebook employees tweeted dissent against CEO Mark Zuckerberg, parting with his policy position that prevents the social network from checking President Trump.
“Facebook's inaction in taking down Trump's post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here,” said Lauren Tan, a Facebook engineer in a tweet on Sunday. “I absolutely disagree with it. I enjoy the technical parts of my job and working alongside smart/kind people, but this isn't right. Silence is complicity.”
Tran was one of a handful of outspoken Facebook employees this weekend, revealing new fissures at the company over yet another divisive social moment. On Monday, some of the Facebook employees were signaling they would stage a virtual walkout to keep up the pressure. “We must stand in the way of danger, not behind,” tweeted Sarah Zhang, another Facebook worker.
Facebook employees contacted for this story did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Monday afternoon, the fallout of Facebook's public stances began to strain partnerships, as well. Talkspace, a mental health app, froze a deal it had with the social network to collaborate on wellness services for users. CNBC first reported on the principled move by Talkspace.
Oren Frank, CEO of Talkspace, said on Twitter: “We will not support a platform that incites violence, racism, and lies.”
Facebook is taking heat for placating President Trump, who was accused of seeding Facebook and Twitter with violent rhetoric in the past week. Twitter challenged a presidential tweet last week that implored Minnesota's governor to crack down on protesters, saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Twitter let the message remain, only behind a warning that said it breaks rules about “glorifying violence,” but it would stay up because it serves the public interest. Meanwhile Facebook took no action against the same message, which prompted soul-searching within the company. Zuckerberg had made public remarks earlier last week, that reiterated Facebook's position that the platform should not be the “arbiter of truth.”
There have been protests around the country calling for justice for George Floyd, the black man whose death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer was captured on video and shared across the world.
Facebook and Twitter are not the only companies being asked to pick sides and to assert leadership in the aftermath. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel sent a memo to his staff Sunday calling for social justice, according to The Information, which reported on the letter. On Sunday, Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, tweeted support for Black Lives Matter.
On Sunday, Amazon posted a message on Twitter saying, “the inequitable and brutal treatment of black people in our country must stop.” Amazon's message came just weeks after the company had to publicly account for its own treatment of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon workers have complained of unhealthy conditions in warehouses, and last month, a top Amazon engineer, Tim Bray, resigned in protest and called out the company's treatment of employees of color.
By Friday, Facebook employees were expressing concerns about its policies via internal company message boards, according to The Verge. At a time when rival Twitter was getting credit for cracking down on bad tweets from the president, some Facebook employees wondered if their company was being too obsequious regarding an issue that called for bolder action.
“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” tweeted Ryan Freitas, a Facebook product designer.
Zuckerberg did share his personal thoughts on the protests and Floyd’s death: “I know Facebook needs to do more to support equality and safety for the Black community through our platforms,” Zuckerberg wrote on Sunday on Facebook. “As hard as it was to watch, I'm grateful that Darnella Frazier posted on Facebook her video of George Floyd's murder because we all needed to see that. We need to know George Floyd's name. But it's clear Facebook also has more work to do to keep people safe and ensure our systems don't amplify bias.”
Facebook has given its approval to workers who want to publicly distance from company policies. “We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” a Facebook spokesman said in an email statement. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we'll continue seeking their honest feedback.”
Correction: Lauren Tan is one of the Facebook engineers who protested the company's policies. Her name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.