WASHINGTON – The public won’t see this post on Facebook, but it showed up in the company’s internal message board last week titled, “We Have a Problem With Political Diversity.”
“We are a political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views,” wrote Brian Amerige, a senior Facebook engineer. “We claim to welcome all perspectives but are quick to attack – often in mobs – anyone who presents a view that appears to be in opposition to left-leaning ideology.”
The “we” is Facebook. And the blistering criticism is reminiscent of the toughest language used by President Trump and Republican members of Congress about the bias of the dominant social-media company in the world.
And, it turns out, Amerige, a libertarian inside Mark Zuckerberg’s universe, is not alone.
Since the original post went up last week, more than 100 Facebook employees have joined Amerige to form an online group called “FB’ers for Political Diversity,” according to two people who viewed the group’s page and spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity.
All the group calls for is the creation of a space for ideological diversity within the company, says Amerige.
The fact that others have not gone public suggests they fear repercussions from their employer or their co-workers. Not all of the latter have embraced the call for political diversity and tolerance.
According to the Times report, other Facebook employees claimed the posts were offensive to minorities. Another anonymous employee who feared retaliation said several people had lodged complaints with their managers about “FB’ers for Political Diversity” and were told that it had not broken any company rules.
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The internal debate inside Facebook, perhaps even a mini-rebellion, comes before next week’s Senate hearing about social-media manipulation in elections at which Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is scheduled to testify. In preparing for the testimony, Sandberg has warned that some Republican lawmakers may raise questions about Facebook’s political biases. Some Facebook employees have complained the internal posts are ill-timed with that in mind.
On Tuesday, President Trump again brought up the issue of political bias by tech companies with tweets attacking Google. Later, in a press briefing at the White House, he widened his focus to include Twitter and Facebook.
Those companies “better be careful because you can’t do that to people,” Trump said. “I think that Google, and Twitter and Facebook, they are really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful. It is not fair to large portions of the population.”
Facebook has long been viewed as a predominantly liberal company. Both Zuckerberg and Sandberg are known for their generous contribution to Democratic politicians and are strong open borders advocates. Facebook is one of six major tech companies, characterized by independent media pioneer Joseph Farah as the “Speech Code Cartel” – Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Apple – that partner with the left-wing Southern Poverty Leadership Council as arbiters of “hate speech.” The SPLC has accused Trump and other Republican officials and members of Congress of employing “hate speech,” being “fascists” and “racists” and “conspiracy theorists” – the same accusations Facebook used to ban Alex Jones.
The Facebook culture is decidedly insular politically and culturally. Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, the maker of virtual-reality goggles that Facebook acquired, was pressured to leave the company last year, months after news spread that he had secretly donated to an organization dedicated to spreading anti-Hillary Clinton internet memes. And Peter Thiel, an outspoken supporter of Trump, has faced calls for his resignation from Facebook’s board.
For his part, Zuckerberg publicly defended Thiel for the ideological diversity he brought to the board. In an appearance before Congress this year, Mr. Zuckerberg responded to a question about anti-conservative bias by saying he wanted Facebook to “be a platform for all ideas.”
Other Silicon Valley companies, including Google, have also experienced a wave of employee activism over diversity – including some lawsuits for terminations.
Amerige, who has worked at Facebook since 2012, said on his personal website that he followed philosophical principles laid out by libertarian philosopher and writer Ayn Rand. He posted his 527-word memo about political diversity at Facebook earlier this month.
Explaining the political culture at Facebook he wrote, “you can either keep quiet or sacrifice your reputation and career.”
“We are entrusted by a great part of the world to be impartial and transparent carriers of people’s stories, ideas and commentary,” Amerige wrote. “Congress doesn’t think we can do this. The president doesn’t think we can do this. And like them or not, we deserve that criticism.”
Amerige knows Facebook and Google are vulnerable on this issue of being entrusted as impartial and transparent “carriers” of ideas. Both companies are specifically exempt from defamation and other forms of litigation because of their unique legislative protection that set them apart from publishers, who have no the absolute right to take strong political positions, even advocacy. Facebook and Google, on the other hand, are considered under the law more like utilities – or simple “carriers” of information.
Farah and other critics have made the point that Americans should be far more concerned about the influence of these companies in election results than a few Facebook ads purchased by Russians in 2016.