Facebook’s internal documents revealed that the social media giant has endangered American democracy, and the company’s employees knew it but they could not prevent CEO Mark Zuckerberg from letting the hate speech and misinformation spread on its platform.
Thousands of pages of documents leaked to media outlets show that Facebook employees ripped their boss for his obsession with growth over ethical concerns when he allowed hate speech and incitements to violence to spread unchecked on the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, which were organized partially through Facebook.
According to the documents shared on The Atlantic, there were a number of things happening all at once on Jan. 6 afternoon: Both chambers of Congress began their evacuation; protesters were in the building; Vice President Mike Pence was hurried off the Senate floor and out of the chamber; protesters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” President Donald Trump was watching the riot on television at the White House and tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution… USA demands the truth!”
In the meantime, horrified Facebook employees scrambled to enact “break the glass” measures to quell the use of their platform for inciting violence. And that evening, Zuckerberg sent a message on Facebook’s internal chat platform.
“This is a dark moment in our nation’s history, and I know many of you are frightened and concerned about what’s happening in Washington, DC. I’m personally saddened by this mob violence,” Zuckerberg wrote.
But, having spent months raising concerns about Facebook’s engagement-obsessed algorithms pushing users toward extreme and conspiratorial content, the company’s staffers felt betrayed by a lack of action from Zuckerberg.
According to their messages posted by The Atlantic on Monday, Oct. 25, Facebook employees staffers were not sad, but they were angry, specifically at the company’s leadership. Their message was clear: This is our fault.
“One of the darkest days in the history of democracy and self-governance,” a staffer wrote. “History will not judge us kindly.”
“We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control,” another Facebook staffer wrote.
“We must demand more action from our leaders. At this point, faith alone is not sufficient,” one staff said in a response to Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer who asked employees to “hang in there” as the company figured out its measures.
“All due respect, but haven’t we had enough time to figure out how to manage discourse without enabling violence? We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control,” one wrote.
An employee said that, “I’m tired of platitudes; I want action items. We’re not a neutral entity.”
According to The Atlantic, the employees have long understood that Facebook, with its hypocrisies and hunger for power and market domination, had undermined democratic norms and restraints in America and across the globe. However, the Jan. 6 event proved for many people to be a breaking point.
Earlier in October, Frances Haugen, the whistleblower and former Facebook engineer, filed a series of disclosures about Facebook to the Securities and Exchange Commission and to Congress before her testimony.
In recent documents sent to some news outlets, Haugen claimed that Facebook has been aware of the harms it causes, but has not rectified the issues or struggled to address them.
Other documents leaked by Haugen reportedly showed that Facebook has allegedly misled investors and masked slowing growth among critical demographics like young users in the U.S., as well as failed to crack down on human trafficking on the site.