Mark Zuckerberg Faces Employee Backlash Over Political Ads
Last year, it seemed that Facebook might emerge relatively unscathed from accusations ranging from privacy violations to allowing Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The social media company did walk away with a $5 billion fine by the Federal Trade Commission for user privacy violations, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg sailed through a 2018 Senate hearing, partly because, as Casey Newton wrote in The Verge, “Senators don’t understand how Facebook works.”
But the tide may be turning for Zuckerberg and his company. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign posted an ad to Facebook this week that was riddled with deliberate falsehoods (such as the assertion that Zuckerberg had endorsed Donald Trump) in an effort to challenge the company’s hands-off approach to campaign ads on the site.
The company has faced renewed scrutiny for its role in politics after Politico reported that Zuckerberg has been hosting private dinners with right-wing pundits, for which New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed him. Now, The New York Times reports, Zuckerberg is facing dissent from his own employees.
In a letter to the CEO obtained by The Times, they call Facebook’s lack of fact-checking in its political advertisements “a threat to what FB stands for.” The letter adds that the company’s policy “doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy. … We strongly object to this policy as it stands.”
According to Times reporter Mike Isaac, “Many employees have been discussing Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision to let politicians post anything they want [on] Facebook ads because those ads can go viral and spread misinformation widely.” Isaac calls the controversy over the ad policy “a rare moment of internal strife for the company.”
The letter, which The Times reports was signed by 250 employees, has been on view on Facebook Workspace, an internal communications platform. While that’s just a fraction of the company’s 35,000-member workforce, the letter is a notable “sign of the resistance that the company is now facing internally over how it treats political ads,” Isaac reports.
In response to questions about the letter, Facebook spokeswoman Bertie Thomson wrote in a statement to The Times: “Facebook’s culture is built on openness, so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic. … We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads.”
Previously, the most prominent employee backlash came from content moderators, who, as an investigation by The Verge revealed, monitor user-generated posts, which include hate speech, violence and graphic pornography, often for low pay and with little management support.
In the letter regarding political ads, employees emphasize that they are committed to providing solutions to address the problem: “We want to work with our leadership to develop better solutions that both protect our business and the people who use our products.” Their proposals include redesigning visual aspects of the political ads, restricting options for ad targeting and setting spending limits for individual campaigns.
Read the full letter here.Wait, before you go…
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