Facebook Employees Protesting Against Mark Zuckerberg

Business » INDUSTRY | June 2, 2020, Tuesday // 22:10
Bulgaria: Facebook Employees Protesting Against Mark Zuckerberg pixabay.com

Facebook employees are staging a rare protest against the company for leaving up a post from President Donald Trump they say could incite violence. The employees, who began publicly criticizing the social network on Twitter over the weekend, have escalated their disapproval by staging a virtual walkout and symbolically changing their workplace profile pictures. 

The social media giant has faced criticism before from its employees about the company's mostly hands-off approach to political content. The internal disapproval, however, has reached a new boiling point because Facebook's inaction contrasts with rival Twitter's response to Trump's posts.

After labeling two of Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots for "potentially misleading information," Twitter placed another notice over the president's tweet for violating its rules against glorifying violence. In the tweet, which was also posted by the White House's account, Trump said "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." The president made the remarks in response to news about protests that have erupted following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota who died after a white police officer pinned his neck down with his knee.

Facebook left up Trump's post after the company determined that the president's remarks didn't violate its rules against potentially causing "imminent risk of specific harms or dangers," a decision that conflicts with Twitter's interpretation of the remarks. Facebook allows for discussion around the state use of force. The world's largest social network also doesn't have a notice like Twitter that allows a politician's post to stay up even if it violates its rules. 

The decision prompted hundreds of Facebook employees to stage a "virtual walkout" on Monday by taking the day off and requesting time off to support protesters. Employees also added an automated message to their emails saying that they were out of the office to show that they disagreed with the company's position on Trump's posts, according to a report from The New York Times. Some employees have threatened to resign while others took to Twitter to criticize Facebook's decision, an unusual public rebuke of their own company.

In an effort to underscore their discontent, Facebook employees reportedly changed their internal profile pictures on a workplace version of the social network to the Twitter logo, sources told Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St. John's University School of Law. 

The company's security team was reportedly telling employees not to wear Facebook-branded clothing at protests to avoid "unwanted attention."

Late Friday, Zuckerberg defended the company's decision to keep the president's post up.

"Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force," Zuckerberg said in a post. He added that the president clarified in a later post that he discourages violence.

Zuckerberg had a phone call with Trump and "expressed concerns about the tone and the rhetoric," a source familiar with the call told Axios. The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

Increasingly, employees at big tech companies have protested their organizations' handling of sexual harassment, defense contracting and climate change in public. Google has been a particular hotspot of employee unrest. A year and a half ago, 20,000 Googlers around the world walked out of their offices to protest alleged sexual assault and harassment at the search giant. Googlers have also spoken up about the company's relationship with the military and an effort to build a censored search engine for China

While Facebook is no stranger to public criticism, Zuckerberg might be more willing to listen to his own employees, Raicu said.

Facebook typically doesn't send political posts or ads to its third-party fact checkers. But the company has taken action against an ad from the Trump reelection campaign in the past. In 2018, Trump's

campaign posted a controversial immigration ad that Facebook removed for violating its rules against "sensational content." The 30-second ad features Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant who was convicted of killing two California sheriff's deputies in 2014. It falsely attempts to connect Bracamontes' crimes to the migrant caravan making its way from Mexico to the US border. The video was allowed on Facebook even though the ad was pulled. /cnet.com

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