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Facebook apparently still has a ‘black people problem’

18 Nov 2019

A year on from its last discrimination controversy, Facebook has issued an official apology to employees reporting further incidents.

Facebook has been sitting firmly in the hot seat for some time now, given concerns about privacy, power, and how it treats both its users and staff.

Now, one year since criticisms emerged about its behaviour towards black employees and users of the site, the issue has cropped up again.  That’s due to an anonymous open letter written by 12 employees, claiming that not only has the issue persisted over the past year, but that it has been getting worse.

The open letter

The memo, published last week on Medium, lists recounted examples of discrimination against the authors from their white colleagues, as well as managers and HR personnel.

Penned by a group of black, Latinx and Asian workers, its release coincided with Facebook’s global annual Black@ event in California, at which founder Mark Zuckerberg spoke to the importance of inclusion and empowerment. 

This was addressed in the letter, which states: “We may be smiling. We may post on Instagram with industry influencers and celebrities.

“We may use the IG ‘Share Black Stories’ filter and be featured on marketing pieces. We may embrace each other and share how happy we are to have the opportunity to work with a company that impacts nearly 3bn people. 

“On the inside, we are sad. Angry. Oppressed. Depressed. And treated every day through the micro and macro aggressions as if we do not belong here.” 

The memo includes 12 examples of incidents that the authors say “are factual, with witnesses corroborating the behaviours, and have been thoroughly documented”. One example reads: “While eating breakfast, two white employees asked me to clean up after their mess. I am a program manager. I told my manager about the incident. She told me I need to dress more professionally.” 

Accompanying these examples are snippets of racist remarks that had apparently been posted to Blind, an app that allows Facebook employees to post anonymous experiences.

One Blind post said: “Are blacks really treated poorly or do they just like to complain?”. Another advised those complaining of racism “to get over it or go to a different company”, adding that it was “bad enough we are using diversity as a measure for recruiting and lowering our standards”.  

Facebook and its ‘black people problem’

Facebook employee Mark Luckie made news headlines last year after sending around his own open letter to colleagues shortly before his departure from the company, in which he plainly wrote: “Facebook has a black people problem.” 

Luckie said that in some of the company’s buildings, the walls were plastered with more Black Lives Matter posters than the number of actual black people working inside them. 

In his letter, he discussed Facebook’s “disenfranchisement of black people” on the social media platform itself, which, in his words, was a telling reflection of “the marginalisation of its black employees”.

“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.”

In response to the most recent complaints about Facebook’s alleged attitude towards non-white employees, the companys vice-president of corporate communications, Bertie Thomson, issued an apology statement to CNBC.

She said: “No one at Facebook, or anywhere, should have to put up with this behaviour. We are sorry. It goes against everything that we stand for as a company. We’re listening and working hard to do better.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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