June 12, 2020
Facebook Responds to Employee Protest
In recent weeks, social media titans Facebook and Twitter have been at odds publicly over Twitter’s handling of tweets the company feels are misleading. When Twitter’s new policy was announced, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company would maintain a different policy. This statement was almost immediately tested by President Donald Trump, who stepped away from Twitter a bit to post some things on Facebook that some users found “controversial.”
After Facebook did nothing to censor or fact-check the President, some Facebook employees chose to stage a public protest. Since many are working from home anyway, they staged a “virtual” walkout, opting not to do any work on a certain day. As a result, media reports that Facebook told department managers to take no retaliatory action against these employees, nor were they to require these employees to use their paid time off.
Speaking to the media, one Facebook employee, Jason Stirman, said he didn’t agree with his CEO’s decision not to counter Trump’s messaging. “I’m not alone inside of Facebook. There isn’t a neutral position on racism…”
Another Facebook employee, Andrew Crow, agreed, saying, “Giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless of who you are or if it’s newsworthy… I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make changes…”
Responding to these public statements, which is relatively rare for the social media giant, a Facebook spokesperson told the media, “We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our black community. 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…”
Facebook, as a brand, appears to be setting a consistent position on speech that the company may not personally support. By allowing employees to speak out about the company’s refusal to censor posts that some consider controversial, the brand is positioning itself as the counterpoint to Twitter, which has continued to stand firm on its decision to add fact checks to tweets.
Zuckerberg himself specifically addressed this issue in a post, saying, “I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts… Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric… But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity, but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression…”
With the CEO officially weighing in on the issue, it appears Facebook had drawn the definitive line in the social media sand. They will not compel or censor speech, on their platforms or in their offices.