Tech

Mark Zuckerberg wants employees to stop debating social issues at work

At a time when Facebook's inaction over social issues is under the spotlight, Zuckerberg wants to clamp down on internal dissent.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

Facebook uses a private version of its social network as the internal communications system for all of its employees. But according to The Wall Street Journal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is telling staff that he wants them to stop using the network to debate political and social issues because it's caused too much internal discord.

This not long after advertisers participated in the #StopHateForProfit campaign to pull back spending on Facebook over its inaction in addressing hate speech and misinformation on the platform. In the run-up to the election, the company is under intense pressure to take a stronger stance on content that could reduce confidence in election integrity.

Oh, the irony — When the company does allow internal discussion around controversial issues, Zuckerberg says the conversations will be heavily moderated. This is the same company that thinks it can effectively moderate speech on its entire global platform despite all evidence suggesting otherwise.

Some recent events that have created tension inside Facebook include a report that its leader in India has shown favoritism to that country's ruling party, and its decision to leave up President Trump's "looting and shooting" post that looked like a dog-whistle for police violence against protestors. Employees staged a virtual walk-out in response to the latter, with Zuckerberg defending the decision by saying he personally didn't believe Trump was suggesting violence.

In his memo to employees announcing the changes to permitted discussions, Zuckerberg said he doesn't think employees should have to confront social issues in their day-to-day work unless they want to. Even though Facebook urgently needs leadership willing to confront its role in the world and influence on serious social issues.

Tech values — Tech companies have always promoted cultures of free speech and openness within their offices, but now those same values are coming to bite them. Headcounts have ballooned and their influence is under the spotlight. Some employees have decided to the best way to bring about change is from the inside through protest and debate. That has led to lots of distrust that threatens the cultures which made them attractive places to work in the first place.

The situation inside Facebook would likely be less tense if Zuckerberg had a spine or any real values to stand on. If Facebook stood for something, staff could easily decide whether it's the right place to work based on their personal values. Instead Zuckerberg states values and then contradicts them, using the guise of free speech to protect the president and the GOP because that's easier than making hard decisions to protect his userbase. To deal with internal pushback he'll just put his hands over his ears and tell employees to be quiet.

Facebook has to stand for something and walk the walk or else these problems won't go away. It's too big and influential for employees to pretend they'll be impartial.