Zuckerberg vs. His Staff: Facebook Employees Livid Over Refusal to Censor Trump

Employees tweeted their discontent and staged virtual walkout

mark zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg is under fire from his own employees over Facebook's stance on content moderation. Getty Images
Headshot of Scott Nover

Key Insights:

Tensions are escalating inside Facebook over the social platform’s laissez-faire approach to the president’s posts.

While Twitter took an active approach to Donald Trump’s account last week—including flagging a tweet that encouraged shooting unarmed protesters—Facebook chose to interpret Trump’s message differently and has not modified the same post. 

Some Facebook employees are upset over the policy—and tweeted about it.

“I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up,” Jason Toff, director of product management, tweeted early Monday morning. “The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.”

Design manager Jason Stirman tweeted that he “completely disagrees” with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to “do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence.”

“I’m not alone inside of FB,” he added. “There isn’t a neutral position on racism.”

The New York Times reported today that dozens of Facebook employees are also staging a virtual “walkout” to call out the social network’s inaction over Trump’s post encouraging violence against protesters.

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” a Facebook spokesperson told Adweek. “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.”

Zuckerberg authored a lengthy Facebook post Friday, saying he had a “visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” but said he is responsible for reacting “as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

Last Tuesday, after years of pressure, Twitter took unprecedented action against Trump’s account, placing a fact-check label on two of his tweets about mail-in ballots. Trump responded by lashing out, accusing Twitter of interfering with the election and promising retribution.

He took it a step further Thursday when he signed an executive order that, while legally fraught, threatens social media companies like Twitter and Facebook by attempting to curb liability protections afforded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

By the end of the week, Trump had not cooled his rhetoric and Twitter didn’t back down. With protests raging in Minneapolis and elsewhere in the country over the police killing of George Floyd early Friday morning, Trump sent a tweet with the quote “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Twitter promptly blurred out the tweet with a “public interest notice,” defending the move by claiming it breaks site rules by “glorying violence.” Still, the platform did not remove the tweet, and users can click to see it—because, it claimed, Trump’s tweets are newsworthy as president.

Meanwhile, Facebook allowed the same post to stand unaltered on its site.

On Friday, The Verge’s Casey Newton reported on internal posts on Workplace, Facebook’s collaboration tool for workers, critical of Zuckerberg’s policy and response. Kate Klonick, a St. John’s University law professor who researches online speech, tweeted, “Sources tell me that Facebook employees are changing their internal employee-Facebook profile images to the Twitter logo in protest.”

But it wasn’t long before the internal pressure moved to Twitter—and employees took the rare step of tweeting about their frustrations with Facebook.

“Censoring information that might help people see the complete picture *is* wrong,” Andrew Crow, head of design for Facebook’s Portal, tweeted today. “But giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy.”

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” tweeted Ryan Freitas, head of product design for Facebook’s news feed.

For Monday’s walkout, employees took a day off and left automated messages saying they were off in protest. A company spokesperson did not have any additional comment on the walkout and referred Adweek to its original statement.

“More than a dozen current and former employees” took part in the protest, according to The New York Times, describing it as “the most serious challenge to Mr. Zuckerberg’s leadership since the company was founded 15 years ago.”

If you are a Facebook or Twitter employee and would like to talk securely, you can contact the reporter at scottnover@protonmail.com from a non-work email.

@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.
Publish date: June 1, 2020 https://stage.adweek.com/digital/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-employee-walkout-trump-censorship/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT