Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout to Protest Trump Posts

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Dozens of Facebook employees, in rare public criticism on Monday of their own company, protested executives’ decision not to do anything about inflammatory posts that President Trump had placed on the giant social media platform over the last week.

The employees, who took the day off by logging into Facebook’s systems and requesting time off to support protesters across the country, also added an automated message to their emails saying that they were out of the office in a show of protest. The group is one of many clusters of employees attempting to push back on executives. As of Monday morning, many employees continued to discuss a list of demands for management.

The movement — a virtual “walkout” of sorts since most Facebook employees are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic — comes as staff members have circulated petitions and threatened to resign. More than a dozen current and former employees have described the unrest as the most serious challenge to Mr. Zuckerberg’s leadership since the company was founded 15 years ago.

Mr. Zuckerberg has argued on a number of occasions that Facebook should take a hands-off approach to what people post, including lies from elected officials and others in power. He has repeatedly said the public should be allowed to decide what to believe.

That stand was tested last week when Twitter added fact-check and warning labels to two tweets from the president that broke Twitter’s rules around voter suppression and glorification of violence. But as Twitter acted on Mr. Trump’s tweets, Facebook left them alone. Mr. Zuckerberg said Mr. Trump’s posts did not violate the social network’s rules.

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“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a post to his Facebook page on Friday. “But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

In response to the walkout, Mr. Zuckerberg has moved his weekly meeting with employees to Tuesday, rather than Thursday. The meeting will be a chance for employees to question Mr. Zuckerberg directly on his decision.

A Facebook spokeswoman said Monday morning that executives welcomed feedback from employees. “We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” said Liz Bourgeois, the spokeswoman. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership.”

Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision frustrated many employees. More than a dozen Facebook employees tweeted that they disagreed with Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision, including the head of design of Facebook’s portal product, Andrew Crow.

“Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here,” said Lauren Tan, a Facebook engineer, in a tweet on Friday. “Silence is complicity.”

Two senior Facebook employees told The New York Times that they had informed their managers that they would resign if Mr. Zuckerberg did not reverse his decision. Another person, who was supposed to start work at the company next month, told Facebook they were no longer willing to accept a position at the company because of Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision.

Over the weekend, several petitions circulated among Facebook employees calling for the company to make personnel changes and for more diversity of voices among Mr. Zuckerberg’s top lieutenants.

Credit…Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Employees have called for the resignation of Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy. Mr. Kaplan is seen as being a strong conservative voice within the company. In 2018, he upset some employees when he sat in the front row of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was a close friend.

On Sunday, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote that he would be donating $10 million to groups working on racial justice. The move, coupled with his earlier post expressing solidarity with the demonstrators, did little to quell the internal protest.

Facebook executives have long acknowledged that the company has failed to attract a diverse work force.

“There’s a long history of Facebook, as a company, not seeing or being responsive to black employees,” said Mark Luckie, who quit the company in 2018 and published a memo titled “Facebook is failing its black employees and its black users.”

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Facebook had a severe lack of diversity, especially among executives, Mr. Luckie said in an interview. “When you don’t have a diverse group of people at the top of the company you don’t understand the issues involved or why your employees are upset.”

In 2014, 2 percent of Facebook’s employees were black. In 2019, that number had increased to 3.8 percent, according to the company’s diversity report.

Sheera Frenkel reported in Oakland, Calif. Mike Isaac reported in San Francisco.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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