Dissenting voices aren’t unusual in Facebook’s internal bulletin boards—which, according to reports, have recently been overflowing with frank complaints about Zuckerberg’s policy. But going public is a violation of what was once a near-omerta against criticizing Zuckerberg on the record. Even more striking, some Facebookers participated in a “virtual walkout” on Monday. (Storming out of headquarters isn’t an option, since nearly everyone at Facebook is working at home during the pandemic.)
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Zuckerberg noticed. He is moving up his end-of-the-week employee Q and A to Tuesday so he can respond. But will he listen to his workers and take down the posts? If history is a guide, the answer is no.
For one thing, Zuckerberg is famously stubborn. This is a life-long trait. When I interviewed his parents for my book about Facebook, they told me about Mark’s decision to leave the local public high school because it didn’t have enough computing resources and advanced classes. His family was happy to send him to a costly nearby private school, Horace Mann. But Mark had heard good things about Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire. His mother was already losing one child that year—Mark’s sister Randy would be going to Harvard—and she didn’t want to see her only son leave the house, too. So she begged him to at least interview at Horace Mann. “I’ll do it,” he said. “But I’m going to Phillips Exeter.” And that’s what happened.He runs his company that way too. The business is set up so that his voting shares give him a majority. And while he does seek the opinions of others, he has often chosen to override compelling objections to products and policies that turned out to be harmful and sometimes wrong. (Examples: the 2007 Beacon product that violated privacy by reporting user web purchases on the News Feed. Or Instant Personalization, which gave other websites private information about a user’s friends. That was the same privacy violation that led to Cambridge Analytica .)
9 Questions for Facebook After Zuckerberg’s Privacy Manifesto Christophe Morin/Getty Images Yesterday afternoon, Mark Zuckerberg presented an entirely new philosophy. Facebook does have nascent efforts in commerce and cryptocurrency, but there’s no question that figuring out revenue on the new platform will be a hard problem for Dave Wehner, Facebook’s chief financial officer.
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Our in-house Know-It-Alls answer questions about your interactions with technology.In those cases, the dissent was kept private—even years later some of those describing it to me would not go on the record. Now the complaints are public, and Zuckerberg has to respond. He made a start on Friday with a long, tortured explanation of why he wouldn’t budge on keeping up Trump’s content. While admitting he struggled with the issues, he went into the weeds of policy to explain why this particular content managed to stay within the boundaries of acceptable Facebook speech. “These are difficult decisions and, just like today, the content we leave up I often find deeply offensive,” he wrote. “We try to think through all the consequences. People can agree or disagree on where we should draw the line, but I hope they understand our overall philosophy is that it is better to have this discussion out in the open, especially when the stakes are so high.”
And so simultaneously the company mounted a huge effort, led by CTO Mike Schroepfer, to create artificial intelligence systems that can, at scale, identify the content that Facebook wants to zap from its platform, including spam, nudes, hate speech, ISIS propaganda, and videos of children being put in washing machines.