Facebook’s Zuckerberg faces employee backlash over Trump protest comments

(Reuters) – Facebook employees accusing Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg of inadequately policing U.S. President Donald Trump’s posts took to Twitter to praise the rival social media platform for acting and rebuke their own employer.

Some took part in a virtual walkout on Monday, abandoning their working-from-home desks in a pandemic-era protest reminiscent of a walkout at Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google in 2018 over sexual harassment.

It was a rare case of high-level employees publicly taking their CEO to task, with at least three of the dozen critical posts seen by Reuters coming from people who identified themselves as senior managers.

“Mark is wrong, and I will endeavor in the loudest possible way to change his mind,” wrote Ryan Freitas, identified on Twitter as director of product design for Facebook’s News Feed. He added he had mobilized “50+ likeminded folks” to lobby for internal change.

Sara Zhang, a product designer who joined Facebook in April, according to her LinkedIn profile, tweeted that she would participate in the virtual walkout “in solidarity with the black community.”

“Facebook’s recent decision to not act on posts that incite violence ignores other options to keep our community safe. The policy pigeon holes us into addressing harmful user-facing content in two ways: keep content up or take it down,” she said.

Katie Zhu, a product manager at Instagram, tweeted a screenshot showing she had entered “#BLACKLIVESMATTER” to describe her request for time off on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott


Tech workers at companies – including Facebook Inc (FB.O), Google, and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) – have actively pursued social justice issues in recent years, urging their employers to take action and change policies.

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone wrote in a text, referring to company employees.

“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.”

Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) on Friday affixed a warning label to a Trump tweet that included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter said it violated rules against glorifying violence but was being left up as a public interest exception.

Nationwide unrest erupted after the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis last Monday. Video footage showed a white officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before he died.

Facebook declined to take action on the same message, with Zuckerberg saying in a Facebook post on Friday that while he found the remarks “deeply offensive,” they did not violate company policy against incitements to violence and people should know whether the government was planning to deploy force.

In the post, Zuckerberg, who last week took pains to distance his company from the fight between the president and Twitter, also said Facebook had been in touch with the White House on Friday to explain its policies. Facebook later confirmed reporting by news website Axios that Zuckerberg had a call with Trump.

Some dissenting employees praised Twitter’s response.

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“Respect to @Twitter’s integrity team for making the enforcement call,” wrote David Gillis, identified as a director of product design

Jason Toff, a director of product management and former head of short-form video app Vine, was one of several Facebook employees organizing fundraisers for racial justice groups in Minnesota. Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook on Monday the company would contribute an additional $10 million to social justice causes.

Toff tweeted: “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.”

Reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore, Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England and Katie Paul in San Francisco. Editing by Jonathan Weber, Chizu Nomiyama, Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis

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