Dozens of Facebook employees are staging a virtual walkout today in protest of the company’s decision to do nothing at all about President Trump’s posts calling for violence in response to protests over George Floyd’s murder last week. It’s a rare — but not unprecedented — occurrence for the company’s employees to stage such a public protest against Facebook’s policies.
Because all of Facebook’s employees are still working remotely, today’s walk-out is a virtual one. The employees involved logged into the system this morning and requested time off in solidarity with protests across the country. Many also added out-of-office responses to their email accounts to state that they were unavailable as a show of protest.
Today’s walk-out is in protest of the long-standing opinion amongst Facebook’s top-ranking executives that it’s not the company’s place to remove misleading or inaccurate political posts on the social network. That hard stance has reached a near-boiling point in recent weeks, with the President even signing an executive order meant to impose new limits on how social media companies are able police content on their platforms.
Zuckerberg and his fellow executives have made their stance on the matter clear time and time again. Now the company’s employees are ready to take a stand against Facebook’s complicity.
The censorship war rages on — Facebook has taken an extremely hands-off approach to censorship for a very long time now. In the past that’s come to fruition mostly as a stark refusal to fact-check political ads; now the debate has reached entirely new levels over who is allowed to say what on social media.
Last week Facebook’s stance was pushed to its limits as Twitter finally took decisive action to uphold its policies even when it came to the President’s presence on the platform. First Twitter correctly labeled one of Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballot fraud as misinformation, sparking a full tantrum from the President. Later in the week, as protests raged around the country, Twitter hid one of Trump’s tweets for glorifying violence.
Meanwhile, Facebook took none of the same action on Trump’s posts to its site. In response to the controversy, Zuckerberg reiterated his tired arguments about Facebook not being “an arbiter of truth.”
Not just today — Facebook employees are taking the walk-out today as a first step toward more decisive action in the company. According to The New York Times, more than a dozen current and former employees have described the latest unrest in the company as “the most serious challenge to Mr. Zuckerberg’s leadership” since the company’s founding.
Employees are ready to take action in other forms, too. More than a dozen employees have spoken up on social media about their disagreement with Facebook’s official stance on the matter. Two senior Facebook employees told NYT that they would resign if Zuckerberg didn’t reverse his decision; at least one potential employee meant to begin work at the company has now turned down the job offer in response to Zuckerberg’s statement.
Several petitions have also been circulating as a way for employees to co-sign their support against Zuckerberg’s statements. Some call for the resignation of Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s VP of global policy, who is seen as a strong conservative voice in the company.
Zuck's not going to change — It’s obvious at this point that Mark Zuckerberg is not one to listen to reason when it goes against his own thinking. Rather than listen to those frustrated with his policies, the CEO said yesterday that he would donate $10 million to groups working on racial justice.
But he’s made no sign of relenting on his stance. Trump’s post calling for violence is still up on Facebook, despite the many internal and external voices calling for its removal. All this despite the platform’s proven use in the past to spread dangerous misinformation and influence large swaths of people.
The likelihood of Zuckerberg suddenly changing his tune on this matter is very low, based on his past behavior. He would rather those employees leave the company than make the necessary changes to its structure and mission. He's stubborn to the nth degree. He always has been, and that's what's kept Facebook from evolving with the rest of the internet.
And in that refusal lies Zuckerberg’s most pertinent hypocrisy: he stands for free speech, but only if that speech doesn’t go against his hard-fought opinions.