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On 8th November, Mark Luckie, a former strategic partner manager for Facebook, posted an internal memo to Facebook Employees which opined how Facebook is “failing its black employees and its black users.” The memo was sent shortly before he left the company and just days after the New York Times report which threw Facebook under scrutiny for its leadership morals.

Facebook and its ‘black people problem’

Mark Luckie, whose job was to handle the firm’s relationship with “influencers” focused on underrepresented voices, detailed a wide range of problems faced both, internally and externally, by the Black Community at Facebook.

He pointed out that Blacks are some of the most engaged and active members of Facebook’s 2.2 billion-member community- more specifically, 63 percent of African Americans use Facebook to communicate with their family, and 60 percent use it to talk to their friends once a day, compared to 53 and 54 percent of the total U.S. population respectively (according to Facebook’s own research). Yet, many are unable to find a “safe space” for dialogue on the platform, find their accounts suspended indefinitely and their content being removed without notice.

Luckie’s memo states: “When determining where to allocate resources, ranking data such as followers, the greatest number of likes and shares, or yearly revenue are employed to scale features and products, the problem with this approach is Facebook teams are effectively giving more resources to the people who already have them. In doing so, Facebook is increasing the disparity of access between legacy individuals/brands and minority communities.”

“Facebook can’t engender the trust of its black users if it can’t maintain the trust of its black employees.”

In the memo, Luckie congratulated the tech giant for increasing the number of black employees from 2 percent to 4 percent in 2018.  That being said, he went to list down the many issues faced by employees and criticized the firm’s human resources department for protecting managers instead of supporting employees in lieu of such incidents.

He said, “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.”

He pointed out the hypocrisy in the firm where buildings are covered with ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters compared to actually appointing more black employees. The existing black employees are often hassled by security and viewed with suspicion by fellow employees.

“To feel like an oddity at your own place of employment because of the color of your skin while passing posters reminding you to be your authentic self feels in itself inauthentic”

He claimed that Black staffers at Facebook subdue their voices for the fear of risking or jeopardizing their professional relationships and career advancement.

After-effects of Mark’s memo

Mr Luckie’s comments created waves around social media. What followed was a pattern we are all familiar with: ‘deny and deflect the blame’.
First came the public statement, from Facebook spokesman Anthony Harrison: “Over the last few years, we’ve been working diligently to increase the range of perspectives among those who build our products and serve the people who use them throughout the world. The growth in the 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 reported by BBC news, the statement was followed by an internal leak, that while Mr Luckie’s post was made public on Tuesday, it had been circulated at Facebook on 8th  November. At that time, Ime Archibong, Facebook’s director of product partnerships responded to the memo.
On Tuesday, Mr Luckie posted his response on Twitter, suggesting Facebook’s tone publicly did not necessarily match what was said to him internally.

Mr. Luckie seemed to attempt to protect Mr. Archibong’s identity, however, missed out an ‘Ime’ in his tweet. Mr. Archibong- who is also black- has confirmed he wrote the comments.

He was disappointed that the conversation was made public, and described Mr Luckie’s note as “pretty self-serving and disingenuous” while accusing him of having a “selfish agenda and not one that has the best intentions of the community and people you likely consider friends at heart”.

The whole situation again suggests that Facebook is more concerned with not looking bad, rather than assessing if it is doing bad and what can it do to make its forum more approachable and safe for different members of the community.

Mark’s Recommendations to “improve Facebook’s relationship with diverse communities”

Mark ends the memo with some recommendations for the company, some of these include:

  • For any team that has one or more people dedicated specifically to diversity, require a strategic plan for how that work will be incorporated into larger goals for the team. Create metrics for other team members to incorporate into their goals as well that ensure representation is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Implement data-driven goals to ensure partnerships, product testing, and client support is reflective of the demographics of Facebook.
  • Level up cultural competency training for Operations teams that review reported infractions on Facebook and Instagram. Whenever possible, avoid relying solely on algorithms or AI to triage these problems.
  • Create internal systems for employees to anonymously report microaggressions. This includes using coded language like “lowering the bar” or “hostile,” disproportionately giving lower performance review scores to women and people of color, or discouraging employees from engaging in cultural activities outside of their agreed upon work schedule. If these reported infractions surface a pattern, require the manager and/or team to attend sensitivity training to amend the behavior.
  • Support emerging talent and brands by creating a pipeline of communication and scaled support that allows them to further build with the platform.
  • Establish more regularly-scheduled focus groups with underrepresented communities, particularly the Black and Latino users who over-engage on Facebook and Instagram. Use these conversations to gain insight on how to grow the platform.

After Marks memo went viral, many black employees from big tech companies came forward with their own stories of harassment at the workplace, including athlete Leslie Miller who tweeted:

The memo’s publication comes on the same day that a Facebook executive was grilled by parliamentary leaders from nine different countries at a special hearing on disinformation in the United Kingdom.
You can head over Facebook’s Blog to read the memo in its entirety.

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