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Facebook employees go public with criticism of Zuckerberg

At least 3 Facebook employees who disagree with laissez-faire approach appear to be senior managers

Thomson Reuters · Posted: Jun 01, 2020

Facebook employees critical of chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to act on U.S. President Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments about protests across the United States went public on Twitter, praising the rival social media firm for acting and rebuking their own employer.

Some took part in a virtual walkout on Monday, abandoning their work-from-home desks in a pandemic-era protest reminiscent of a walkout at Alphabet Inc.’s Google in 2018 over sexual harassment.

It was a rare case of high-level employees publicly taking their CEO to task, with at least three of the dozen critical posts seen by Reuters coming from people who identified themselves as senior managers.

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavour in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” wrote Ryan Freitas, whose Twitter account identifies him as director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed. He added he had mobilized, “50+ likeminded folks” to lobby for internal change.

Sara Zhang, a product designer who joined Facebook in April, according to her LinkedIn profile, tweeted that she would participate in the virtual walkout “in solidarity with the black community.

“Facebook’s recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe. The policy pigeon holes us into addressing harmful user-facing content in two ways: keep content up or take it down,” she said.

Katie Zhu, a product manager at Instagram, tweeted a screenshot showing she had entered “#BLACKLIVESMATTER” to describe her request for time off on Monday.

A spokesperson said the company is open to employee feedback.

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our black community,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone wrote in a text, referring to company employees.

“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.”

‘Respect to Twitter’s integrity team’

Twitter affixed a warning label late last week to a tweet from Trump in which he had included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” with respect to Minneapolis protests over the death of George Floyd, which had taken a violent turn. Twitter said the tweet violated its rules against glorifying violence but was being left up as a public service exception.

Facebook declined to take action on the same message, with Zuckerberg saying in a Facebook post on Friday that while he found the remarks “deeply offensive,” they did not violate company policy against incitements to violence and people should know if the government was planning to deploy state force.

In the post, Zuckerberg, who last week took pains to distance his company from the fight between Twitter and Trump, also said Facebook had been in touch with the White House to explain its policies. Facebook later confirmed reporting by news website Axios that Zuckerberg had a call with Trump.

Some dissenting employees directly praised Twitter’s response.

“Respect to @Twitter’s integrity team for making the enforcement call,” wrote David Gillis, identified as a director of product design. In a long Twitter thread he said he understood the logic of Facebook’s decision, but: “I think it would have been right for us to make a ‘spirit of the policy’ exception that took more context into account.”

Jason Stirman, in research and development at Facebook, said Trump’s posts “clearly incite violence.”

“There isn’t a neutral position on racism.”

Andrew Crow, head of design for the Portal product, said he disagrees with Zuckerberg’s position and vowed to work to make change.

“Giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy,” Crow wrote.

Jason Toff, a director of product management and former head of short-form video app Vine, was one of several Facebook employees who were organizing fundraisers for racial justice groups in Minnesota. Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post on Monday that the company would contribute an additional $10 million US to social justice causes.

Toff tweeted: “I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.” 

Mail-in voting tweet got 1st warning

Twitter’s first warning for Trump last week said his claims on a post about mail-in ballots were false and had been debunked by fact-checkers.

The blue exclamation mark notification on May 26 prompted readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and directed them to a page with news articles and information about the claims aggregated by Twitter staffers. Trump, who has more than 80 million followers on Twitter, had claimed in tweets earlier in the day that mail-in ballots for the election in November would be “substantially fraudulent” and result in a “rigged election.”

“We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this,” Zuckerberg told Fox News in an interview recorded after Twitter’s decision and broadcast on May 28.

Zuckerberg has said on more than one occasion that he doesn’t want Facebook to be the “arbiter of truth,” though Facebook announced last year that it would take action on some campaign posts encouraging voter suppression and spreading voter misinformation, which are the areas the Twitter fact-check concerned.

As well, Facebook has banned some accounts and groups related to the QAnon political conspiracy theory, as well as those violating the site’s terms by spreading coronavirus misinformation.

After Twitter’s action concerning the tweet on voting by mail, Trump signed an executive order challenging the liability protections from lawsuits for what is posted on their platforms, but it is unclear if the order would survive a likely court challenge.

Technology companies blasted the move, saying it would stifle innovation and speech on the internet. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has supported Trump most of the time with respect to economic policy, shared its objections.

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