Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

source-codesource codeauthorDavid PierceNoneWant your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in tech? Sign up to get David Pierce's daily newsletter.64fd3cbe9f
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Power

As Facebook fights, Mark Zuckerberg’s voice is still the only one that matters

During an emotional all-hands call on Tuesday, Facebook employees pleaded for new ways to think about moderation. Their only hope: changing Mark Zuckerberg's mind.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

In the past, Mark Zuckerberg has reminded the staff at Facebook that the company "is not a democracy."

Photo: Alessio Jacona

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Mark Zuckerberg holds an all-hands meeting, and gets questioned on a corporate policy that many of his employees don't like. Zuckerberg reminds the staff that Facebook believes in free speech, and is not interested in being "an arbiter of truth." Eventually, he reminds his team: "This is not a democracy."

That story comes from last fall, when the topic of discussion was Facebook's allowing of, and refusal to fact-check, political ads. Now, months later, Facebook's back in a similar situation.

Zuckerberg took a more conciliatory tone on an all-hands call on Tuesday. The meeting was higher-stakes than usual, given the events of recent days. After Facebook declined to take action on President Trump's post saying "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," hundreds of employees protested the company's decision by simply declining to work. "People are in a lot of pain right now," one employee told me.

At least one engineer already publicly quit over the decision. Others have said they're turning down jobs they'd been pursuing with the company. And employees from around the company have criticized Facebook, and Zuckerberg himself. (That they're doing it on Twitter, you have to figure, probably makes it feel even worse.)

On Tuesday, Zuckerberg spoke on a video chat to about 25,000 Facebook employees, Vox reported. You can picture it: Zuckerberg, slightly too close to the camera and slightly overlit as he always is on these streams, in front of that light-wood wall.

First he reiterated his explanation for not taking down Trump's post. He said he was troubled by the post and agonized over the decision, but ultimately decided that what Trump posted had "no history of being read as a dog whistle for vigilante supporters to take justice into their own hands." Since it didn't clearly and imminently incite violence, he said, the post stayed online.

The explanation didn't seem to make anyone feel better — just as Zuckerberg's call with Trump and another with civil-rights leaders didn't seem to help. Zuckerberg wants his team to understand that he's just following the Facebook rules, but his team is shouting back that he needs to change those rules.

Like Zuckerberg has said, it's not a democracy. With just under 58% of the company's voting shares, the CEO is impossible to overrule. (And amid all this turmoil, Facebook shares are up slightly, so it's not like investors want his head.) Facebook's vaunted Oversight Board hasn't started working yet, and when it does it won't be able to get involved in issues like this. As Zuckerberg goes, so goes Facebook.

There does appear to be something of a moderation inner circle, though. Answering a question about who helped make the decision on Trump's post, Zuckerberg said that he, Sheryl Sandberg, controversial policy VP Joel Kaplan and head of diversity Maxine Williams (who was also the only black person Zuckerberg said he consulted) were all on his list, along with a couple of others who he didn't name. Notably missing? Guy Rosen, Facebook's head of integrity — the same job title Yoel Roth has at Twitter. Roth became the target of harassment after Twitter took its action on Trump's posts last week.

Still, there may be hope for employees seeking change. Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources from inside Facebook, that the company is already planning two new initiatives: a central hub where users can find election-related information, not unlike the one it built for COVID-19; and new initiatives for promoting racial justice.

Perhaps more interesting for employees railing against the decision about Trump's post, Facebook's also thinking about new ways to police content. Zuckerberg has always held that there are only two ways to handle moderation: leave content up, or take it down. But on Tuesday he said he was interested in exploring non-binary options, like a way to flag a violating post without removing it entirely. That's what Twitter has done a number of times now, to Trump and others, and many Facebook employees have said they liked that solution. He also said he's looking seriously at changing the overall moderation policies.

Will anything actually change? That's hard to know. Facebook has proven unusually good at weathering storms, even seemingly disastrous ones — just remember Cambridge Analytica. And on Tuesday, The New York Times pointed out, Zuckerberg echoed the things he's said through all those other crises — saying that "the net impact of the different things we're doing in the world is positive. I really believe it is."

It's not hard to believe Zuckerberg really means that. The fundamental goodness of connecting everyone has been a core belief of his — and, by extension, of Facebook's — since the company was founded. The good always seemed to outweigh the bad, the bad could always be seen as a small percentage of the content, and it was created by an even smaller percentage of users. But this time, critics say the bad is coming from the President, and those small percentages now register differently.

Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, there's only one person who can do something about it. Because Facebook is many things, but it's definitely not a democracy.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of Facebook's head of diversity. It is Williams, not Waters. Updated June 3, 2020.

Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Photo: Christine/Unsplash

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

pay

What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

Keep Reading Show less
Alex Katouzian
Alex Katouzian currently serves as senior vice president and general manager of the Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure (MCI) Business Unit at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. In this role, Katouzian is responsible for the profit, loss and strategy of the MCI BU, which includes business lines for Mobile Handset Products and Application Processor Technologies, 4G and 5G Mobile Broadband for embedded applications, Small and Macro Cells, Modem Technologies, Compute products across multiple OS’, eXtended Reality and AI Edge Cloud products.
Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Power

Activision Blizzard scrambles to repair its toxic image

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is the first executive to depart amid the sexual harassment crisis.

Activision Blizzard doesn't seem committed to lasting change.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

As Activision Blizzard's workplace crisis rages on into its third week, the company is taking measures to try to calm the storm — to little avail. On Tuesday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who took the reins at the developer responsible for World of Warcraft back in 2018, resigned. He's to be replaced by executives Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio in a power-sharing agreement some believe further solidifies CEO Bobby Kotick's control over the subsidiary.

Nowhere in Blizzard's statement about Brack's departure does it mention California's explosive sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit at the heart of the saga. The lawsuit, filed last month, resulted last week in a 500-person walkout at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. (Among the attendees was none other than Ybarra, the new studio co-head.)

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories