In the past week, hundreds of Facebook employees showed an unprecedented level of disagreement after the company decided not to take action against a fire hazard President Trump’s post last week. The post, which also appeared on Twitter, referred to ongoing US protests against racism and police brutality, saying, “when the looting begins, the shooting begins.”
While Twitter flagged Trump’s post for “glorifying violence,” Facebook decided not to do anything; the company said Trump’s post discussed the use of state power and therefore did not violate his policies. The decision split Facebook, with hundreds of workers protesting, several early workers write an open letter begging the company to reverse the decision, and on at least two Facebook employees step down in protest on the matter earlier this week.
Now Recode has heard that another employee has also resigned in protest. The employee posted a redundancy note for a group on Thursday in Facebook’s internal “Workplace” app. This note – a copy of which was obtained by Recode – is addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and states that Facebook hurts black people inside and outside the company with its hands-off approach to Trump’s inflammatory messages.
“I am deeply ashamed of working in a company that gives free rein to a racist function because it is a politician’s,” wrote the employee, who is not black but identifies as a person of color. Recode has edited their name.
“Black employees of your own company have asked you to respond meaningfully, but you remain alternately defensive and evasive … You have disappointed us all – the few colored people in your company – and your refusal to speak out against violence against Black people chill. ‘
Although Zuckerberg has said that he strongly disagrees with Trump’s “shoot … plunder” post and finds the history surrounding such a language “disturbing”, the CEO said in a Tuesday meeting that Trump’s post is not “read as dog “whistle for vigilantes to take justice into their own hands. The employee’s comment strongly disagrees with Zuckerberg in that assessment, especially as segregationists have used the phrase while cracking down on black protesters since the era of civil rights.
“We know [Trump’s post] uses the language of the segragationists. … Just because you don’t believe it’s a signal of further violence (and please tell us how you investigated this – have you gathered data on how words are interpreted?), Can you honestly face black people and say that there is no chance that it will be interpreted as such? ‘
The employee said that since posting the letter to the internal employee group on Thursday, several of their colleagues have contacted them, saying they are also considering resigning in protest.
Read this employee’s note in full, focusing on theirs.
Hello Mr. Zuckerberg,
I resign in protest at the appalling lack of empathy with which you and Sheryl Sandberg refuse to admit that Trump’s racist post is not only an incentive for further violence against black people, but that it violates Facebook’s community standards. I am deeply ashamed to work in a company that gives free rein to a racist function because it is a politician’s.
I feel, as I know everyone who thinks critically nowadays, that I live in a dystopian novel whose plot darkens per page. That I should make this point, when it should have been clear what the right choice is (hint: put an explicit warning or take down the racist post) is terrible.
I’m going to quote you here via the already leaked transcript:
I actually think that the fact that the video of the murder was posted by giving people a voice in our service, something that becomes possible that way, has had a huge impact. And I … I would urge people not to look at the moral impact of what we do just through the lens of damage and mitigation. Clearly – that’s a big part of what we need to do. I don’t downplay that and we spend huge resources, thousands of people working on it and billions of dollars a year.
But it is also good to remember the positive side and the good and to give people a voice that previously could not get in the news and talk about things and that painful things were visible.
Are we comparing George Floyd’s video posted on Facebook to giving voice to Trump’s hateful language? Are we so deaf today that we can’t tell the difference between free speech and bigotry? Isn’t “harming the real world” one of us community standards? Does Trump really need a platform on which to express his racist views, which you believe is ‘no’ signal to legitimize violence against black people. I quote below for reference:
So we get around in the history of the comment “when the looting starts, the shooting begins”, and it is clearly a disturbing historical statement and reference, whether or not it incites supporters to violence, and in fact we concluded after the investigation and after everything I’ve read and all the different people I’ve talked to, that reference is clear to aggressive police work – perhaps excessive police work – but it has no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilantes to obtain justice in their own hands .
We know that it uses the language of the segragationists. Just because you don’t believe it’s a signal of further violence (and please tell us how you investigated this – you collected data for how words are interpreted?), can you honestly look black people in the eye and say there is no chance it will be interpreted as such? In a political climate as bursting as this, are you going to really hide behind the claim that Facebook is still just a communication platform in an election year, with overwhelming violence against black people who are already rampant? That it hasn’t changed the behavior of two generations since its inception?
Nothing, especially language, is never neutral.
Black people across the country are terrified and shocked. Black employees of your own company have asked you to respond meaningfully, but you remain alternately defensive and evasive. I broke off after seeing a black friend and colleague in so much pain because the struggles that black people have had to endure for so long finally came to light. And what happens if you have the chance to make a difference (and I mean one for real difference – speaking out – not just throwing money at the problem)? Nothing. You have disappointed us all – the few colored people in your company – and your refusal to speak out against violence against black people is horrifying.
I’m not as good as you at not looking at the “moral impact of what we do”, so I leave Facebook in protest. I cannot give my time and intellectual contribution to a company whose leadership is too cowardly to take a stand.