Facebook employees made the extraordinary move of walking off the job—digitally—to protest the company’s hands-off approach to posts made by President Trump inflaming racial tensions as thousands hit the streets to demonstrate against the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man.
The New York Times reported that employees coordinated requests for time off on Monday, saying they were going to support the ongoing protests against police violence. The virtual walkout was prompted in part by the company’s decision not to take action against a post by President Trump that appeared to call for police violence against protesters.
Facebook employees have also taken to Twitter to voice their concerns with the company’s handling of the president’s tweets and the protests. “I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard,” Jason Toff, director of product management at the company, wrote.
David Gillis, a Facebook employee on the company’s product design team, tweeted that he understood the company’s decision to strictly interpret their content rules but warned that Trump’s post “encourages extra-judicial violence and stokes racism.” Instead, Gills wrote “it would have been right for us to make a ‘spirit of the policy’ exception that took more context into account.”
Software engineer Lauren Tan tweeted Friday that “Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here.” She wrote: “I absolutely disagree with it. I enjoy the technical parts of my job and working alongside smart/kind people, but this isn’t right. Silence is complicity.”
On Monday evening, Owen Anderson announced, “that as of the end of today, I am no longer a Facebook employee.”
“To be clear, this was in the works for a while. But after last week, I am happy to no long support policies and values I vehemently disagree with,” he said.
Twitter has taken a far different tack in addressing Trump’s inflammatory messages, attaching a warning label to one of the president’s tweets last week in which he vowed that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The label informed users that the tweet had “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence” but that the company would not remove it because it could be “in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
Facebook declined to take action against an identical message Trump posted to his Facebook account. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, insisted the post wasn’t inciting violence, only warning protesters that the police would shoot at them if they looted, and therefore wasn’t in violation of the tech giant’s rules.
“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” he said Friday. “I disagree strongly with how the president spoke about this, but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves, because ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open.”
On Monday night, The Washington Post reported that civil rights leaders had spoken with Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg about the company’s decision making on Trump’s messages. “It didn’t go well,” Post reporter Cat Zakrzewski tweeted.
“We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up,” Vanita Gupta, Sherrilyn Ifill and Rashad Robison said in a statement. “He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump’s call for violence against protesters. Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook.”