Internal Tensions at Facebook Beginning to Boil Over

Credit: BuzzFeed News

In a year teeming with scandals and missteps, Facebook’s latest fiasco has inspired a clutter of leaks, finger pointing, and internal conversations about the future of the company and its leadership. And after more than a year of bad press, internal tensions are reaching a boiling point and are now spilling out into public view.

The tumult is surprising given Facebook’s history as a tight-lipped organization where employees had little incentive to leak information or voice dissent outside the company’s walls. Throughout the crises, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who maintains majority shareholder control, has proven remarkably immune to outside pressure and criticism — from politicians, investors, and the press — leaving his employees as perhaps his most important stakeholders. Now, as its stock price declines and the company’s mission of connecting the world is challenged, the voices inside are growing louder and public comments, as well as private conversations shared with BuzzFeed News, suggest newfound uncertainty about Facebook’s future direction.

Internally, the conflict seems to have divided Facebook into three camps: those loyal to Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg; those who see the current scandals as proof of a larger corporate meltdown; and a group who see the entire narrative — including the portrayal of the company’s hiring of communications consulting firm Definers Public Affairs — as examples of biased media attacks.

“It’s otherwise rational, sane people who’re in Mark’s orbit spouting full-blown anti-media rhetoric, saying that the press is ganging up on Facebook,” a former senior employee told BuzzFeed News. “It’s the bunker mentality. These people have been under siege for 600 days now. They’re getting tired, getting cranky — the only survival strategy is to quit or fully buy in.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a Facebook spokesperson called this “a challenging time.”

“We are more determined than ever to continue making progress on the issues we’ve faced,” they said. “People at Facebook are focused on building products that help people connect and have a positive impact in the world.”

Two former employees said the spate of negative reports has cast a shadow over the company in recent weeks. Current and former employees describe a tense and, at times, hostile atmosphere inside the company, one in which both senior employees and even staunch loyalists are contemplating their futures.

People are “hoping for a Sundar or Dara moment,” one former senior Facebook employee told BuzzFeed News, referring to past leadership changes at Google and Uber in which founding employees stepped aside from top jobs. A second senior employee echoed the view, suggesting that some inside the ranks are looking for a shakeup to come from the outside. The chatter has made its way outside of the company’s Menlo Park headquarters. “Senior people there know the only way out of this is by hiring a Dara,” a senior executive at a rival company told BuzzFeed News referring to Dara Khosrowshahi, the Uber CEO brought in to replace cofounder Travis Kalanick last year.

Another former senior employee noted a growing sense of paranoia among current employees. “Now, people now have burner phones to talk shit about the company — not even to reporters, just to other employees,” they told BuzzFeed News.

Some former workers have been empowered to bypass the press altogether and speak openly about their situations. Last month, Mark S. Luckie, a strategic partner manager for global influencers who quit in November, posted a 2,500-word memo that he had previously sent internally at the company to his personal Facebook to highlight what he saw as the company’s “black people problem.”

“In some buildings, there are more ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters than there are actual black people,” Luckie wrote, adding that “Black employees are commonly told ‘I didn’t know black people worked at Facebook.’” That post later mysteriously disappeared from Facebook after being flagged for violating the social network’s “community standards” before it was later restored.

These public protestations may be just the beginning for Facebook. Three former employees who spoke anonymously with BuzzFeed News for fear of retribution said that they did not sign paperwork that included language around nondisparagement, and in some cases forfeited their severance pay, upon departing the company.

Some employees at Facebook are required to sign nondisclosure agreements, preventing them from sharing trade secrets, when they first join and are encouraged to sign nondisparagement agreements upon their departure. By not signing that paperwork on the way out, those employees reserved the right to speak openly about their experiences at the company.

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SOURCE: Charlie Warzel and Ryan Mac
BuzzFeed News