with Tonya Riley
Facebook employees have alleged for some time that the social network has “a black people problem.”
It could get worse.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement at a company-wide meeting that he’s keeping company’s hands-off approach to President Trump’s controversial posts isn’t just stoking dissension among current employees: The decision also threatens to turn off potential recruits as the social giant seeks to diversify.
Ayodele Odubela, a black Denver-based data scientist, said she told a Facebook recruiter who reached out to her that she could not work for the company in a LinkedIn message yesterday. She cited Zuckerberg’s decision to not moderate or remove Trump’s posts in her message.
Last week, Zuckerberg announced the company would not action Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post, after rival social network Twitter flagged the same missive on both Trump and the White House’s accounts for glorifying violence.
“They’re definitely going to have a harder time getting diverse people to begin with, and this is definitely going to exacerbate that,” Odubela told me in an interview. “If that’s how Facebook’s going to handle things in the public sphere, we have the expectation it is going to be worse internally.”
Odubela told the recruiter to put her in the “do not hire pile” because she would “rather mop the ocean than try to clean up racism in the company and product.” Here’s her message, shared on Twitter:
— Ayodele | #ThisYou Secretary #BlackLivesMatter (@DataSciBae) June 2, 2020
Facebook was already facing an uphill battle to diversify its workforce.
Facebook has an abysmally low representation of black employees. The company’s latest diversity report, issued in 2019, said that just 3.8 percent of all employees are black. In senior leadership roles, that figure falls to 3.1 percent. Many major tech companies, especially in Silicon Valley, have similarly low diversity statistics.
Facebook has pledged to do better on diversity in recent years, especially as it’s come under intense fire for hate speech and Russian election interference targeting communities of color on its platform. But the company’s latest decisions, against backdrop of protests against police violence and racism spanning cities across the country, mean it could be an uphill battle.
As the company was grappling with escalating backlash from its own employees over its handling of the posts, Zuckerberg announced the company would donate $10 million to groups working on racial justice and posted about his support of the black community. But many people saw this as an empty platitude as the company simultaneously took no action against a post that critics say incites violence against the protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“There are plenty of opportunities beyond sort of like throwing a couple of million dollars at foundations and things like that to actually take a stand behind black people,” Mark Luckie, a former Facebook employee who authored a viral post about black employees’ struggles at the company, told me. Luckie is also a former Washington Post editor. “The problem for them is visibility, it is that people are starting to hold them accountable even more now than they ever were.”
The company itself admits that the handling of Trump’s posts could make it harder to recruit black employees. “Yes, it will most likely be harder; however we remain committed to building a more diverse workforce to help us build better products, make better decisions, and create a better culture,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told me.
Luckie said it has been difficult for the company to recruit black tech workers for years, especially in light of these numbers. He said recruiters told him that people turned down job offers at the company because they heard about the work environment being hostile to people of color.
Zuckerberg made comments that risk only further stoking internal racial tensions as he fielded questions from employees.
Zuckerberg told employees that Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” reference was “troubling” – but not ultimately a violation of Facebook’s policies, according to audio of the meeting obtained by Recode’s Shirin Ghaffary.
“We basically concluded after the research and after everything I’ve read and all the different folks that I’ve talked to that the reference is clearly to aggressive policing — maybe excessive policing — but it has no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands,” Zuckerberg said on the call. He also said noted that Facebook still reserves the right to moderate Trump’s posts in the future.
The phrase has a racially charged history. Miami Police Chief Walter Headley used the same words in 1967, when he held a news conference “declaring war” on criminals as armed robberies and unrest hit black neighborhoods in the city. He warned that he would use shotguns and dogs at his command, my colleague Michael S. Rosenwald reports. A 1967 Miami Herald report on Headley’s comments said “his men have been told that any force, up to and including death, is proper when apprehending a felon.”
Trump has denied that he used the phrase as a threat. “It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement,” he tweeted later on Friday.
Zuckerberg also told the employees that just one black person, Facebook global diversity officer Maxine Williams, was involved in his decision not to remove or otherwise action Trump’s post, Recode reported.
He said that, moving forward, Facebook may adopt temporary speech restrictions for state actors in the United States if civil unrest continues, The Verge’s Casey Newton reports. Zuckerberg also released a plan of action to address employee concerns, which includes communicating better with employees about how policy decisions are made, including more diverse viewpoints on the policy team and soliciting new initiatives to advance racial justice on Facebook from employees.
Luckie said that Facebook often makes proclamations to do better in the face of controversies over race, but it rarely follows through with actions. “It’s unfortunate that there’s never any sort of resolution,” he told me.
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A vast network of personal security and smartphone cameras has reshaped public protest in the United States.
The recordings can help hold police violence to account, but they can also pose privacy concerns for protesters, Heather Kelly and Rachel Lerman report.
“The ability for the public to document what is going on is an important tool for holding powerful people and institutions accountable, including the police,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future.
But those same videos and photos are often laced with location information and other data that police can use to track protesters, she notes.
“Footage from traffic cameras, from cellphone companies, that can have a profoundly chilling effect on freedom of expression,” Greer said. “It can target vulnerable communities, and we’ve seen that again and again.”
Many of the police forces in cities where widespread protests have occurred also have access to facial-recognition technology like Clearview AI, which can scrap faces from crowds and match them with photos ripped from public social networks. Law enforcement can also request relevant footage from Amazon’s Ring, which partners with more than 400 police forces.
Other police departments have turned to social media to solicit information directly — but with some unintended consequences. When a Dallas police department put out a call for help on Twitter asking for anonymous tips, videos and images of Korean pop stars flooded its app.
A group supported by major tech companies brought the first legal challenge to take on Trump’s recent executive order targeting social networks.
The Center for Democracy and Technology’s challenge says the order could “curtail and chill constitutionally protected speech,” during the 2020 election, Tony Romm reports. It’s the first major legal challenge of Trump’s controversial directive, which opens the door for federal agencies to investigate and penalize social media companies over how they moderate political content.
“We see the executive order as very clear retaliation that’s designed to deter social media companies from fighting misinformation and voter suppression,” said Alexandra Givens, the leader of CDT. The group is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to invalidate the whole of the order. Facebook and Google, which provide funding to CDT, declined to comment.
Twitter, whose recent fact-check of the president’s tweet on voting by mail helped spark the order, praised the lawsuit.
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) June 2, 2020
The White House referred requests to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond.
It is unclear how the executive order will be implemented, but it faces resistance from a broad coalition of free-speech groups and Democratic lawmakers. The Justice Department recently defended the same law Trump’s order threatens to roll back in a case filed against YouTube by LGBTQ content creators, who accused the platform of discrimination, Bloomberg News notes.
Facebook will finally allow users to delete old posts in batches. But it’s no instant privacy fix.
The long-awaited Manage Activity tool allows people to “archive” posts, which hides them from everyone but you, or “trash” them, which will permanently delete them after a 30-day period, Geoffrey Fowler reports. Users can filter by types of posts, as well as date ranges for the posts.
But the new tool has some limitations. For now, it is only available in the smartphone version of the app.
Users cannot delete by keyword (so, say, an ex’s name or “drunk”), nor can they remove posts and photos from other people that they are tagged in. They also cannot set their profiles to automatically delete posts as they go. Geoffrey suggests getting around this by making sure that privacy controls are set up to limit tags and visibility.
Geoffrey says it’s still worth using, but with a caveat. “The only Facebook data that’s truly private and secure is the Facebook data you delete,” he writes.
Rant and rave
Wikipedia, an underrated platform. Disinfo researcher Natalie Martinez:
— Natalie Martinez (@natijomartinez) June 2, 2020
From the streets to social media
Social media companies continue to struggle to remove misleading posts about the George Floyd protests.
Old protest footage being passed off as live streams of recent protests over the death of George Floyd gained tens of millions of views before the videos were taken down by Facebook, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, said there was no evidence that the foreign accounts behind the fake live streams sought to sow discord in the United States; instead, they were probably just building an audience for future spam, he said.
False rumors about antifa organizing protests to loot suburban areas also spread on social media and via text messages on Tuesday.
The misinformation went viral in neighborhood groups on Facebook and on the neighborhood-based social media app Nextdoor, as well as in group texts in multiple states, NBC News reports. Local law enforcement disputed the rumors.
More protest coverage:
A new investigation could lead the Trump administration to retaliate against countries it believes are unfairly taxing U.S. tech firms.
A new probe by the U.S. Trade Representative would examine the taxes on digital services from nine trading partners, including Italy, Spain, India and Brazil, David J. Lynch reports. If the office determines that the taxes discriminate against U.S. companies, the administration could retaliate with higher tariffs.
It follows a similar probe of a French tax last year that the U.S. Trade Representative alleged unfairly targeted American tech companies Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon. The United States and France managed to reach a detente on a brewing trade war sparked by the tax, while the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tries to broker a global consensus on digital taxation.
Consumers are suing Google for up to $5 billion over allegations that it secretly collected user data.
The suit, brought by Boies Schiller Flexner, alleges that the company collects information, including IP addresses and browsing histories through other Google tools, even after users have turned off data collection on the Chrome browser.
The complaint, filed on Tuesday, is seeking at least $5,000 in damages per violation of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws.
Google maintains that its policies around data collection are clear and that it will defend itself against the suit.
“As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman, told Bloomberg News.
- George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics will host a virtual forum on the coronavirus and social media disinformation on June 16 at 10 a.m.
Before you log off
D.C. resident Rahul Dubey gave refuge to about 60 protesters inside his home after law enforcement had pushed them down his street, firing chemicals at them. (Video: Luis Velarde/The Washington Post, Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)