Facebook employees stage virtual walkout over Zuckerberg’s inaction on Trump posts

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on May 1, 2018. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on May 1, 2018. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Some Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout on Monday to protest CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to take action on a series of controversial posts from President Donald Trump last week, a person familiar with the plans told CNN Business.

As part of the walkout, employees took the day off work. Managers at Facebook have been told by the company’s human resources department not to retaliate against staff who are planning to protest, or to make them used paid time-off, the source told CNN.

The New York Times first reported the protest.

The walkout comes alongside a rare wave of public dissent from Facebook employees on Twitter. Jason Stirman, a design manager at Facebook, said he disagreed with Zuckerberg’s decision to do “nothing” about Trump’s recent posts. “I’m not alone inside of FB. There isn’t a neutral position on racism,” he wrote in a tweet on Saturday.

“Giving a platform to incite violence and spread disinformation is unacceptable, regardless who you are or if it’s newsworthy,” Andrew Crow, head of design for Facebook’s Portal devices, tweeted over the weekend. “I disagree with Mark’s position and will work to make change happen.”

A Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business: “We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community. 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.”

The public pushback from employees comes after growing scrutiny of Facebook’s inaction. Last week, Twitter for the first time affixed a fact-check label to multiple Trump tweets about mail-in ballots and days later put a warning label on a tweet from Trump about the protest, in which he warned: “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” While identical posts appeared on Facebook, the company chose to do nothing.

“I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day. Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post 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.”

Trump and Zuckerberg spoke on the phone Friday, a source familiar with the call previously told CNN.

While only a small number of Facebook employees are currently speaking out compared to Facebook’s overall workforce of about 48,000, it nonetheless highlights Facebook’s difficult tightrope walk. Taking action on Trump’s posts risks angering the White House and conservatives, who have long complained of alleged bias on the platform, but doing nothing could alienate some of Facebook’s top talent. Last week’s Executive Order concerning social media claimed platforms are engaged in political bias, even as many conservative voices and publishers flourish there. But workers walking out over how the company handles Trump’s posts certainly won’t help Facebook defend itself against the perception its staff leans liberal.

The criticisms from employees only grew as protests over the death of George Floyd spread to dozens of cities around the country.

Katie Zhu, an Instagram employee, tweeted that she was taking Monday off and that she’s “deeply disappointed” and “ashamed” with “how the company is showing up.” Zhu encouraged others who work for Facebook’s apps to join her and “organize,” while also sharing a screenshot of her paid time off status including the description #BlackLivesMatter.

“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, Facebook director of product management, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

In addition to speaking out publicly, some employees also took the symbolic step of changing their profile pictures to a modified version of the iconic Facebook thumbs-up Like icon, designed instead to be a fist of solidarity.

In a post on his personal Facebook page Sunday, Zuckerberg said he knows “Facebook needs to do more to support equality and safety for the Black community through our platforms.” He also said Facebook would pledge $10 million to groups working on racial justice.

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