In the past week, hundreds of Facebook employees have shown unprecedented levels of dissent after the company decided to take no action on an incendiary post from President Trump last week. The post, which also appeared on Twitter, referred to the ongoing US protests against racism and police brutality by saying, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
While Twitter flagged Trump’s post for “glorifying violence,” Facebook decided to do nothing; the company said that Trump’s post was discussing the use of state force and therefore didn’t violate its policies. The decision has divided Facebook, with hundreds of employees protesting, several early employees penning an open letter imploring the company to reverse the decision, and at least two Facebook employees resigning in protest over the matter earlier this week.
Now, Recode has learned that another employee has also resigned in protest. The employee posted a resignation note on a group in Facebook’s internal “Workplace” app on Thursday. This note — a copy of which was obtained by Recode — is addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and makes an argument that Facebook is hurting black people inside and outside the company with its hands-off approach to Trump’s inflammatory posts.
“I’m deeply ashamed of working in a company that gives free rein to a racist post because it is by a politician,” wrote the employee, who is not black but identifies as a person of color. Recode has redacted their name.
“Black employees from your own company have asked you to respond meaningfully, but you remain alternately defensive and evasive ... You’ve disappointed us all — the few people of color in your company — and your refusal to speak out against violence against Black people is chilling.”
While Zuckerberg has said he strongly disagrees with Trump’s “shooting … looting” post and that he finds the history around such language “troubling,” the CEO said in a Tuesday all-hands meeting that Trump’s post falls short of “being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands.” The employee’s note sharply disagrees with Zuckerberg in that assessment, particularly because segregationists have used the phrase while cracking down on black protesters since the civil rights era.
“We know [Trump’s post] uses the language of the segragationists. ... Just because you don’t believe it’s a signal for further violence (and please tell us how you researched this — did you collect data for how words are interpreted?), can you honestly look Black people in the eye and say that there is not a chance it will be interpreted as such?”
The employee said that since posting the letter in the internal employee group on Thursday, several of their colleagues have reached out to them, saying they’re also considering resigning in protest.
Read this employee’s note in full, emphasis theirs.
Hello Mr. Zuckerberg,
I am resigning in protest at the appalling lack of empathy with which you and Sheryl Sandberg refuse to admit that Trump’s racist post not only acts as an incitement for further violence against Black people, but that it breaks Facebook’s community standards. I’m deeply ashamed of working in a company that gives free rein to a racist post because it is by a politician.
I feel, as I know everyone who thinks critically does nowadays, that I am living in a dystopian novel whose plot is getting darker by the page. That I have to make this point, when it should have been obvious what the right choice is (hint: put an explicit warning or take down the racist post) is appalling.
I’m going to quote you here through the already-leaked transcript:
I actually think the fact that the video of the murder was posted through giving people a voice on our service, something that becomes enabled that way, has just had an immense impact. And I just — I would urge people to not look at the moral impact of what we do just through the lens of harm and mitigation. That’s clearly — that’s a huge part of what we have to do. I’m not downplaying that, and we spend massive resources, thousands of people working on this and billions of dollars a year.
But it’s also good to remember the upside and the good and the giving people a voice who wouldn’t have previously been able to get into the news and talk about stuff and having painful things be visible.
Are we comparing the video of George Floyd being posted on Facebook to giving a voice to Trump’s hate speech? Are we so tone-deaf today that we cannot tell the difference between free speech and bigotry? Is “not doing real world harm” not one of our community standards? Does Trump really need a platform on which he can broadcast his racist views, which you insist “is not” a signal to legitimize violence against Black people. I quote below for reference:
So we’re getting into the history of the comment around “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” and it’s clearly a troubling historical statement and reference, whether or not it’s inciting supporters to go to violence, and we basically concluded after the research and after everything I’ve read and all the different folks that I’ve talked to, that that reference is clearly to aggressive policing — maybe excessive policing — but has no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands.
We know it uses the language of the segragationists. Just because you don’t believe it’s a signal for further violence (and please tell us how you researched this - did you collect data for how words are interpreted?), can you honestly look Black people in the eye and say that there is not a chance it will be interpreted as such? In a political climate as fraught as this one, in an election year, with overwhelming violence against Black people already rampant, are you really going to hide behind the claim that Facebook is still only a platform for communication? That it hasn’t modified the behavior of two generations since its inception?
Nothing, especially language, is ever neutral.
Black people across the entire nation are terrified and appalled. Black employees from your own company have asked you to respond meaningfully, but you remain alternately defensive and evasive. I broke down after I saw a Black friend and colleague in so much pain because the struggle Black people have had to undergo for so long finally came to light. And what happens when you have a chance to make a difference (and I mean a real difference - speaking out - not just throwing money at the problem)? Nothing. You’ve disappointed us all - the few people of color in your company - and your refusal to speak out against violence against Black people is chilling.
I am not as good as you are at not looking at the “moral impact of what we do”, and 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.