Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg admonished some of his own employees this week over remarks on the company’s internal messaging platform about racism and violence against Black men.
In a post on the social media giant’s internal communications channel Workplace last week, a Facebook staffer shared a post titled “In Support of Law Enforcement and Black Lives.” The post called into question the notion of racially disparate outcomes in the criminal-justice system, argued that racism is not a serious motivation in police shootings, railed against “critical race theory,” and claimed narratives about police violence often “conveniently leave out” other factors, including whether the victim was under the influence of drugs or complied with officers’ directives.
The Facebook employee posted it days after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake multiple times in the back, leaving him paralyzed, according to the man’s family.
“My heart goes out to the Blake family,” the staffer wrote on Friday. “It also goes out to the well-intentioned law enforcement officers who have been victimized by society’s conformity to a lie.” The staffer continued: “What if racial, economic, crime, and incarceration gaps cannot close without addressing personal responsibility and adherence to the law?”
Multiple Facebook sources told The Daily Beast that the piece sparked outrage among members of the company’s workforce. In an update atop the controversial post, the Facebook employee who authored it noted that he had deleted comments on the post, as the responses had become “unproductive and overwhelming to me.” He further acknowledged that “many of you found this to be offensive, which was not my intent.”
The reaction was so strong that in a note posted to Workplace on Monday, Zuckerberg replied to the controversial pro-police blog, saying that he did not support the way that some Facebook staffer were discussing issues affecting Black Americans.
“We designed our respectful communications policy to allow people to discuss very different viewpoints,” he said. “But I’m concerned that some people are doing that without appreciating the impact their words are having on our Black community.”
Like other Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Facebook hosts internal channels for employees to discuss issues affecting the company. But in Monday’s post, the Facebook CEO also said that the social-media giant was developing internal forums on Workplace with “clear rules and strong moderation” to discuss potentially controversial topics that would discourage employees from more widely sharing views that other staff consider offensive.
“You won’t be able to discuss highly charged content broadly in open groups,” he said. “As you know, we deeply value expression and open discussion, but I don’t believe people working here should have to be confronted with divisive conversations while they’re trying to work.”
The company’s public attitude toward racism and violence have been the subject of extensive media coverage in recent months in the leadup to the 2020 election and in the wake of several high-profile police slayings of Black individuals like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Facebook employees reportedly criticized Zuckerberg in an all-hands meeting last month after the Verge reported that a militia group calling itself “Kenosha Guard” used Facebook to issue a “call to arms” before a 17-year-old shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha. The complaints came just weeks after an internal uproar over the platform’s refusal to remove a post by President Donald Trump seemingly encouraging violence against people protesting the Minneapolis police killing of Floyd, and a lengthy BuzzFeed News article about how the social media company was slow to react to ads with white supremacist and Nazi content reported by Facebook’s own employees.
“We are failing,” an outgoing Facebook engineer said in a leaked video earlier this year arguing that Facebook was designing its policies to allow political actors to spread misinformation. “And what’s worse, we have enshrined that failure in our policies.”
Some employees were also disturbed over a Wall Street Journal report earlier this week about a top Facebook executive in India who privately voiced support for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and refused to take action when several members of Modi’s hardline right-wing party clearly violated hate-speech rules.
“[L]et me be absolutely clear about our stance as a company: systemic racism is real. It disadvantages and endangers people of color in America and around the world,” Zuckerberg posted.
Zuckerberg added that while it was “valuable for employees to be able to disagree with the company and each other,” he encouraged Facebook staffers to do so “respectfully, with empathy and understanding towards each other.”
The Facebook founder’s response didn’t completely satisfy every employee.
“I really hope the takeaway from last week’s mess isn’t ‘it’s okay to say things that make Black employees feel like they don’t belong here, as long as you do it in the right Workplace groups,’” the Facebook product staffer remarked in a comment on Zuckerberg’s post.
“Systemic racism exists everywhere in our society, and we can’t expect that it doesn’t exist at Facebook either.”
Facebook declined to comment on this story.