Protocol | Policy

‘Beyond the pale’: Former Facebook staffers react to the company’s Haugen spin

"As a former employee, I disagreed with what they said, and as a communications professional, I think it was really bad PR."

An illustration of a teacup with the Facebook spilling tea.

Former Facebook staffers are spilling the tea over the company's public reaction to Frances Haugen's whistleblowing.

Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Facebook's efforts to undermine the testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen began before she even left the Senate Commerce Committee hearing room Tuesday.

"Just pointing out the fact that @FrancesHaugen did not work on child safety or Instagram or research these issues and has no direct knowledge of the topic from her work at Facebook," spokesperson Andy Stone said in a tweet that ended up being read aloud by Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, during the hearing.

Another statement from Policy Communications Director Lena Pietsch referred to Haugen dismissively as someone who "worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports" and "never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives."

For Nu Wexler, a former Facebook policy communications staffer, the anti-Haugen spin was overkill. "The statement they put out about Frances Haugen was beyond the pale," said Wexler, who also worked in policy communications at Google and Twitter. "As a former employee, I disagreed with what they said, and as a communications professional, I think it was really bad PR."

The counterattack strategy has differed dramatically from the regretful responses Facebook has offered in past episodes, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In those cases, the company often responded with an apology and a plan.

This time around, from Mark Zuckerberg on down, the company has been decidedly less apologetic, with Haugen as a case study for the new approach. For some former Facebook employees watching from home, the experiment in public aggression is backfiring.

From Wexler's point of view, Haugen demonstrated clear facility of the facts and familiarity with the industry. "They're going to have a hard time convincing people that she doesn't know what she's talking about," he said.

Katie Harbath, a public policy director at Facebook for 10 years who left the company in March, said, "All these folks, whether they had direct reports or not, they all have perspective and expertise that should be heard."

"It shouldn't be the only one that's heard," she added.

Another former Facebook communications staffer called the company's response "a mistake." "It's not about her. The whole dialogue that's happening is not about whether she's a credible messenger or not," the former staffer said, before adding, "She is a pretty credible messenger."

In an organization as large as Facebook, this former employee said, the communications team can often struggle to get a view of all of the information they need to respond to criticism at the exact moment they need to respond. "Through the process of digging up the facts, any individual small team will inevitably only see a part of what's going on. It's the proverbial elephant and the five blind men," the former staffer said. "As messaging is crafted people start focusing on that small part, so the response gets down-leveled to the trees instead of focusing on the forest."

In this case, the staffer said, the trees are Haugen's bona fides. The forest is the substance of her claims.

The remarks from Stone and Pietsch have also prompted former employees, some of whom held more senior roles during their time at Facebook, to publicly rally to Haugen's defense.

"Well I was there for over 6 years, had numerous direct reports, and led many decision meetings with C-level execs, and I find the perspectives shared on the need for algorithmic regulation, research transparency, and independent oversight to be entirely valid for debate," tweeted Samidh Chakrabarti, who founded the civic integrity team Haugen worked on, and whose breakup she noted in her Senate testimony. "There are countless other integrity professionals with experience on the issues raised today — past & present, within FB & across industry — who similarly agree with the substantive points shared at the hearing and believe it merits public conversation."

Adam Conner, vice president for tech policy at the Center for American Progress, echoed Chakrabarti and warned of a domino effect if Facebook pushes back too hard against Haugen. "I know plenty of former Facebook employees are watching to see if FB legal and comms will retaliate against @FrancesHaugen," Conner tweeted. "If they do, a lot more people with a lot more experiences may step forward."

Facebook didn't respond to a question about why it's taking such an unapologetic approach toward Haugen's disclosures.

Harbath has a theory: "The other one wasn't working."

Protocol | Workplace

The whiteboard wars: Miro and Figma want to make meetings better

Miro and Figma separately launched features on Tuesday aimed at improving collaboration on their platforms.

Whiteboard rivals Miro and Figma each released collaboration improvements.

Logos: Figma and Miro

We expect a lot from our productivity tools these days. You can't just stroll over to your team members' desks and show them what you're working on anymore. Most of those interactions need to happen online, and it's even better if the work and the communication can happen in one place. Miro and Figma — competitors in the collaborative whiteboard space — understand how critical remote collaboration is, and are both working to up their meeting game.

This week, both platforms announced features aimed at improving the collaboration experience, each vying to be the home base for teams to work and hang out together. Figma announced updates to its multiplayer whiteboard FigJam, and Miro announced a new set of tools that it's calling Miro Smart Meetings. Figma's goal is to make FigJam more customizable and accessible for everyone; Miro wants to be the best place for content-centered, professional meetings. They both want to be the go-to hub for teams looking to get stuff done.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

Hybrid work is here to stay. Here’s how to do it better.

We've recovered from the COVID-19 digital collaboration whiplash. Now we must build a more intentional model for hybrid work.

This is a call to managers to understand the mundane or unwanted projects their employees face, and what work excites them.

Photo: Adobe

Ashley Still is Adobe's Senior Vice President of Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships.

When COVID-19 hit, we were forced into a fully digital mode of business operation. Overnight, we adopted available remote work tools — even if imperfect, they were the best tools for the job.

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Ashley Still
As Senior Vice President, Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships, Ashley Still leads product marketing and business development for Adobe's flagship Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings. This includes iconic software brands such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Her expanded remit now includes Adobe's strategic partnership work with technology companies globally, including Apple, Microsoft and Google; and driving Adobe's fast-growing mobile app business. Her team is also responsible for the demand generation marketing campaigns that makes Adobe the market-leader, across creative and document productivity segments. Previously she was Vice President and General Manager, Adobe Creative Cloud for Enterprise. Here her team delivered an integrated content creation, collaboration and publishing solution that securely enables brands to create exceptional design and content. Prior to this, Ashley was Senior Director of Product & Marketing for Adobe Primetime, an Internet television platform used by Comcast, Turner, NBC Sports and other global media companies to deliver TV content and dynamic advertising to any Internet device. Under Ashley's leadership, Adobe Primetime won an Emmy Award for the Adobe Pass TV-Everywhere service. Ashley joined Adobe in 2004 following her internship with the company and held several product management positions for Adobe Photoshop. Still earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and her Masters degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Protocol | Workplace

Meet the productivity app influencers

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there is a somewhat surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app.

People are making content and building courses based off of their favorite productivity apps.

Photos: Courtesy

This is the creators' internet. The rest of us are just living in it. We're accustomed to the scores of comedy TikTokers, beauty YouTubers and lifestyle Instagram influencers gracing our feeds. A significant portion of these creators are productivity gurus, advising their followers on how they organize their lives.

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there's a surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app. They're a powerful part of these apps' ecosystems, drawing users to the platform and offering helpful tips and tricks. Notion in particular has a huge influencer family, with #notion gaining millions of views on TikTok.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Payments Infrastructure

Power Index: Payments Infrastructure

A data-driven ranking of the most powerful players in tech — and the challengers best positioned to disrupt them.

Welcome back to the Protocol Power Index, a ranking of the most powerful companies by tech industry subsector, as well as the companies best positioned to challenge them. This time: payments infrastructure.

The payments stack has been evolving dramatically in the last decade with the rise of ecommerce and new forms of money transfers, and though it's a sector that's been touched by Midas through each of its iterations, there's somehow still space for newcomers to be minted. Payments giants have ceded coveted territory to new market entrants during the process, but they are hardly down for the count.

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Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
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