Facebook employees rebel against their boss. He does not want to intervene in the brutal contributions of the President – to preserve freedom of expression.
Mark Zuckerberg is the founder and boss of Facebook, and a special share construction gives him the final say in all important decisions. Now, for the first time in the company’s 16-year history, employees are rebelling against their boss – in public. More than a dozen developers and high-ranking managers are clear: “I work on Facebook and I am not proud of the picture we give,” writes about Product manager Jason Toff on Twitter and is harvesting almost 200,000 likes. “Mark is wrong and I will be as loud as possible to change his mind,” explains Ryan Freitaswho is responsible for the design of the news feed, the central news flow on Facebook.
Another powerful man triggered the conflict. “If looting starts, shooting begins,” Donald Trump had threatened last week – a historically charged quote the Miami chief of police used to justify police brutality against black citizens over 50 years ago. Twitter provided a warning to Trump’s tweet for glorifying violence. Facebook did nothing.
“I’ve been racking my brains all day about how to deal with the President’s tweets and posts,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook on Friday. He himself rejects this divisive and rushing rhetoric. However, he should not make his own opinion the standard for Facebook’s decisions, in a good American tradition, so to speak: “We should allow as much free speech as possible, unless it poses an immediate danger.” Despite the worrying historical reference, Facebook decided to leave Trump’s post. “We believe that people should know whether the government is considering using violence.”
The decision triggered waves of outrage. Employees accuse Zuckerberg of wantonly preparing Trump a stage on which he can fuel hatred and divide society. In internal forums are said to have 750 critical comments just ten to twenty come to support Zuckerberg. In a survey during an internal question and answer session, 19 employees voted for and more than 1,000 against Zuckerberg’s decision, the reports New York Times. Hundreds of employees went on strike and judged on Monday in protest Vacation notes like #BlackLivesMatter some threatened with dismissal. You compile a list of claims to submit to Zuckerberg.
Facebook has to decide how to deal with the barely concealed threat from US President Donald Trump: Should it delete the post, how should Twitter display a warning or give the President a free hand? It’s not just about an individual case, but about a fundamental stance: Does Facebook want to be a platform on which politicians can say almost anything, regardless of the consequences? Or do Facebook’s own rules also apply to politicians, regardless of their position?
The sound recording of an internal meeting through which the tech portal The Verge reports, gives an insight into Zuckerberg’s world of thoughts. “My first reaction … was disgust,” says the Facebook boss. “This is not the way our leaders should act at such a time.” After all, he admits that Facebook has to question its own stance: How should the company react if the state exercises or threatens violence? He believes there are good arguments for setting tighter limits. So far he has not done that.
There is a lot at stake for Facebook. When Twitter acted against Trump last week and provided several aggressive tweets from the president with fact checks and warnings, the latter brought out the supposedly ultimate counter-strike: he signed a decree that is to make platforms directly liable for content that users upload. The regulation is poorly crafted and probably not legally tenable. But it shows that Trump is ready to take radical steps if companies dare to stand up to him.
Zuckerberg has done a lot to appease Trump in recent years: he flattered him at private dinners and promoted Republicans to key posts. From an economic point of view, this is understandable: No corporation does itself a favor if it deals with the US president and the conservative half of the American population.
In the long term, Facebook could harm the cuddle course. Most developers in Silicon Valley are liberal. The current protest shows that some of them are not already working for a company that absolutizes freedom of speech and ignores the consequences. Facebook recently had to admit that it had done too little against digital hatred and agitation in countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia. That has contributed to entirely analogous violence. In Myanmar, India and Nigeria, human rights organizations also see Facebook’s inactivity as a fire accelerator for lynching and genocide.
From a western perspective, these countries are far away. However, Facebook cannot ignore the current escalation in the USA. Ten years ago, Zuckerberg said: “Having two identities is an example of a lack of integrity.” Now he is trying exactly this balancing act: he separates his moral opinion as a private person from the attitude of the company whose decisions he makes. “My goal for the coming decade is not to be liked, but to be understood,” he said in January. “For that, people need to know what you stand for.” What it stands for is not yet clear.
Facebook has recently created a body that could answer fundamental questions that no manager should decide alone: the so-called oversight board should determine which content the most important communication platform in the world allows – and which not. This “Supreme Court” currently consists of 20 people from science, the media and politics. He is not yet able to work. Amongst other things the members probably don’t have laptops yet. Now would be a good time for Zuckerberg to speed up this process.