A former Facebook strategic partner manager for global influencers, Mark S. Luckie, sent a 2,500 word memo to all of the company’s employees before his departure in November saying the company has “a black people problem,” the Guardian reported.
In the memo, which Luckie also published in a public Facebook note last week, he wrote that black people “are far outpacing other groups on the platform in a slew of engagement metrics,” comprising one of their most active demographics in the country. Yet at the same time, he wrote, their interests are widely ignored by the company and attempts to address the situation consistently ended in little change.
Luckie noted several incidents of black users having their content removed or accounts suspended “with little recourse,” while in other cases their requests for help are ignored “until it’s a major press story,” as in the case of a major Black Lives Matter page that was later revealed to be run by a white Australian hiding behind assumed names. He added that black employees are often treated with disrespect, and that while Facebook has made progress hiring more black employees, “Efforts that promote inclusion, not just diversity, are being halted at the managerial level”:
For any tech company, it is important to have staff that reflects the communities the platform seeks to empower if it intends to be successful. A huge congrats to the teams who have helped increase the number of black employees from 2 percent of the workforce in 2016 to 4 percent in 2018.
... Although incremental changes are being made, the fact remains that the population of Facebook employees doesn’t reflect its most engaged user base. There is often more diversity in Keynote presentations than the teams who present them. In some buildings, there are more “Black Lives Matter” posters than there are actual black people. Facebook can’t claim that it is connecting communities if those communities aren’t represented proportionately in its staffing.
“Facebook’s disenfranchisement of black people on the platform mirrors the marginalisation of its black employees,” Luckie wrote. He noted he had heard “far too many stories from black employees” of disrespectful or marginalising conduct by coworkers, as well as said black staff at the company’s facilities are sometimes treated with hostility by security:
In my time at the company, I’ve heard far too many stories from black employees of a colleague or manager calling them “hostile” or “aggressive” for simply sharing their thoughts in a manner not dissimilar from their non-Black team members. A few black employees have reported being specifically dissuaded by their managers from becoming active in the [internal] Black@ group or doing “Black stuff,” even if it happens outside of work hours. Too many black employees can recount stories of being aggressively accosted by campus security beyond what was necessary.
As another example, Luckie wrote, at least two or three times a day colleagues at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California headquarters would “look directly at me and tap or hold their wallet or shove their hands down their pocket to clutch it tightly until I pass.” He added that Facebook’s human resources department seemed more likely to defend “the manager and the status quo of Facebook” when concerns about unequal treatment were raised, writing that often these “experiences are rationalised away or we’re made to believe these disheartening patterns are a figment of our imagination.”
Luckie included 10 recommendations at the end of his post, including that any team with at least one staff dedicated to diversity should come up with a “strategic plan for how that work will be incorporated into larger goals for the team.” Others included creating data-driven goals to ensure several departments are “reflective of the demographics of Facebook,” implementing more “cultural competency training for Operations teams” involved in moderation rather than “algorithms or AI,” more focus groups dedicated to the experience of black and Latino users. Luckie also wrote that management should create internal systems for employees to “anonymously report microaggressions” such as racially coded language, disproportionately giving negative reviews to female and minority subordinates, and policing of “cultural activities” outside of work.
One former black employee at Facebook told CNBC that they were not surprised to read the note, saying that the company “touts diversity and inclusion as though it’s a marketing opportunity, and perhaps it is genuinely meaningful to them on its face. But when it comes to tactical, day-to-day integration of their stock ‘unconscious bias’ training, it proves to still be a group of exceedingly privileged white people making similarly biased and discriminatory choices as other white leaders in the industry.”
Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison told CNN in a statement that the company is trying:
The growth in representation of people from more diverse groups, working in many different functions across the company, is a key driver of our ability to succeed. We want to fully support all employees when there are issues reported and when there may be micro-behaviors that add up. We are going to keep doing all we can to be a truly inclusive company.
As CNN noted, Luckie has previous worked at other tech firms like Reddit and Twitter, and after leaving the latter platform he wrote a piece on Medium noting that the biggest obstacle to more diversity was the the idea of a “culture fit”:
White Americans have 91 times as many white friends as Black friends, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Three-quarters of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. If current employees don’t know any people of colour then they have none to recommend.
Luckie told CNN that he had went the route of sending the memo public because “Facebook does not make any meaningful change on a company level unless it is being held accountable publicly.” He added that “there was no response from executive leadership. That is uncharacteristic for something that generates this much conversation. I know they were talking about it.”
As the Guardian noted, Luckie also tweeted out a screenshot of a conversation with director of strategic partnerships Ime Archibong, who told him that he had been “self-serving and disingenuous” and posting the memo served a “selfish agenda.”
I appreciate Facebook's response to my post calling out discrimination at the company. However, the tone is noticeably different from the only response I received from senior leadership after sharing the post internally. pic.twitter.com/S3fqT7u174
— Mark S. Luckie (@marksluckie) November 27, 2018
As in life, we all have diverse experiences and I can't speak for your personal experience at FB -- but your experience is not my experience and not that of many others here. For any of us to try and claim our experience is representative of all experiences here is simply false.
— Ime Archibong (@_ImeArchibong) November 27, 2018
Facebook has been through an unending series of scandals as of late, including accusations its platforms have been used for rampant disinformation efforts and to undermine democracy by political actors, that it recklessly handles user data, and that it hired a Republican opposition research firm to attack critics like billionaire philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros. In his note, Luckie wrote that he and other black employees he had talked to had come to believe the discrimination they experienced there “is a pattern of behaviour deeply connected to the culture at Facebook.”
“... To continue to witness and be in the centre of the systematic disenfranchisement of underrepresented voices, however unintentional, is more than I’m willing to sacrifice personally,” Luckie concluded. “I’ve lost the will and the desire to advocate on behalf of Facebook.”
The full note can be read below: