A turbulent political climate is spreading across Facebook’s employee ranks, pitting coworkers against each other in heated chat room arguments, and in some cases, causing tensions that ripple throughout the workplace.
More than 100 employees have rallied in a group on Facebook’s internal Workplace messageboard founded by a conservative employee to protest what they alleged is an “intolerant” culture towards conservatism.
Posters promoting the group and attacking the “outrage mob” have appeared around campus, and debates among employees have broken out across Facebook Workplace over the company’s approach to politics.
There have also previously been some incidents in which Facebook employees have refused to work with or talk to certain colleagues because of their political beliefs, an employee told Business Insider.
“You can…see the dripping of hate off them,” the source said, describing the way “liberal” employees behave around their outspoken conservative colleagues.
The tense atmosphere highlights how even famously liberal Silicon Valley has become sucked into the vortex of America’s chaotic national politics, as companies like Facebook grapple with their political role and influence on the public stage and within the workplace.
“Anyone who says there’s not a liberal bias here is either lying, or just so blinded by their political views they can’t see the bias,” the source said.
Inside the group: ‘No memes or straw men’
The internal Facebook group, “FB’ers for Political Diversity,” was founded by Brian Amerige, a senior engineer, following a post last week decrying what he views as the company’s “intolerant” liberal culture. (The existence of the group was first reported on Tuesday by The New York Times.)
Employees who view the group are greeted with a banner featuring apparent quotes from conservative Facebook employees, including “They say that every opinion is welcome, but it’s really not,” “It’s not easy speaking out here, so props to you and good luck with the outrage mob,” and “I agree with you 100% but I’m too scared to show it publicly.”
Amerige wrote in his initial post, “We Have a Problem with Political Diversity”:
“We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views. We claim to welcome all perspectives, but are quick to attack—often in mobs—anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology. We throw labels that end in *obe and *ist at each other, attacking each other’s character rather than their ideas.”
As of Tuesday, the group now has more than 160 members. It includes both conservative and liberal employees who agree with its message, an employee said.
Discussions range from whether there’s “a socialist version of Atlas Shrugged,” a libertarian-objectivist classic, to the definitions of hate speech.
And there “meta” discussions about the group itself and its aims: “[There is] an external impression that we are ideologues in an echo chamber, pursuing a goal of remaking FB’s culture in a way that pleases us,” an employee wrote. “I hope this group doesn’t become a forum for constant arguments by people who adamantly disagree with each other,” wrote an operations employee in another post.
Amerige laid out a set of rules for the group early on, including: No personal attacks, including calling people racist for supporting a public figure that someone believes is racist; “assumption of good faith is a prerequisite to participation,” and “no memes or straw men.”
Reached for comment, Facebook spokesperson Bertie Thomson referred Business Insider to a statement issued Tuesday: “On Day 1 of Facebook’s new hire orientation in Menlo Park, everyone hears from our Chief Diversity Officer about the importance of diversity and how to have respectful conversations with people who have different viewpoints.”
Some conservative Facebook employees feel they have to stay ‘in the closet’
The Facebook employee, who was not authorized to speak publicly, told Business Insider that the political climate since the formation of the group has been “positive,” and “a lot of people who you wouldn’t expect to be conservative actually came and joined the group and actually came out as conservatives.”
More generally though, the person said that the majority of conservative Facebook employees feel uncomfortable disclosing their political stance to their more liberal coworkers. One trans employee said she found it harder to “come out” as conservative than as trans at Facebook, according to the source.
The Facebook employee also said conservatives at the company believe they can be fired more easily than others, citing ousted Oculus founder Palmer Luckey as an example: “If you’re conservative at Facebook, you’re already walking on eggshells. You will get fired quicker than if you’re a liberal in seconds.”
The size of the group — roughly 160 employees — is a tiny proportion of Facebook’s total headcount of more than 25,000. But the stance of its members illustrates a rift in the tech giant between its politically liberal majority and a minority of conservative employees who feel unable to speak freely.
“There is diversity at Facebook with its employees, but there is definitely a lack of political diversity,” another employee told Business Insider. “As Mr Zuckerberg said to Congress on Capital Hill Facebook is located in an area that is left leaning. I would say that is an understatement.”
In July, more than a month before founding the FB’ers for Political Diversity” group, Amerige spoke out against a mural in Facebook’s new MPK21 building which says “GENDER FREE,” labeling it “radical leftist art.”
“Facebook is free to put up whatever art it wants, but I just want to register my frustration and frankly the disgust I feel every time I pass this,” he wrote.
He criticized it as an attempt “to wipe out the validity of gender as a concept,” arguing that “we do not make progress towards treating people as individuals by blanking out the existence of what makes us different from one another.”
Posters promoting “FB’ers for Political Diversity” have since been stuck beneath it.
‘Political diversity is not ipso facto good’
Amerige’s post on Political Diversity — as well as his earlier criticism of the mural — drew condemnation from some colleagues.
“This isn’t nearly [as] interesting of a take as you think friendo. Being called out for behaving in a harmful way is part of learning how not to be harmful, if you take that as an personal attack rather than an opportunity, that’s your problem,” said a customer support specialist, criticising his initial response to the mural.
“Political ‘diversity’ is not ipso facto good,” said another software engineer. “Politics is the study of power, and not all uses of power are good.”
Others were more supportive. “This is a really important note. Thank you for writing,” wrote a software engineer, arguing the definition of “tolerance” has shifted. “The culture that flows from this new ‘tolerance’ tends to be rather unkind, unforgiving, and ironically, intolerant (by the classic definition).”
Another employee added: “‘I disagree of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ We need to channel Voltaire more in the company today. So many viewpoints are summarily dismissed as *ist/*obe because they are not understood.”
Silicon Valley is under siege
Silicon Valley, the heart of the American tech industry and has been fraught with allegations of bias in Trump’s America.
In July 2017, Google found itself at the centre of a political firestorm after engineer James Damore wrote an internal post decrying what he characterised as “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” in which he attacked the company’s diversity efforts. Some conservatives also allege that social media firms are deliberately silencing and censoring non-liberal voices on their platforms.
Facebook has grappled with how to approach dissent by conservative employees before. As Business Insider previously reported in 2017, a group called “Facebook Anon” where employees could chat anonymously morphed into a hub for conservative, Trump-supporting employees during the 2016 election.
It was ultimately shut down in December 2016 as the talk “turned ugly and … alarmed management.”
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