Facebook has a black people problem.
A digital strategist and former journalist says the social media giant is failing one of its most engaged user groups, and its employees, in a memo he made it public on — where else? — Facebook.
Mark S. Luckie joined Facebook last fall, seizing on an opportunity to make a difference by cultivating relationships with influencers from diverse backgrounds. He left disillusioned a little more than a year later. The memo describes how he believes Facebook is failing its black employees and its black users.
Facebook’s own research shows that African Americans are more likely than other groups to use Facebook to communicate with family and friends daily. But their experience isn’t always positive. Luckie cites a Center for Investigative Reporting report that found moderators punish black people for content it deems unobjectionable when posted by white people.
“Their content is removed without notice. Accounts are suspended indefinitely,” Luckie wrote. “When these rulings are upheld with little recourse, it upends the communities of color Facebook claims to be supporting. It decreases the likelihood that people will continue to engage at the same level on our platform.”
Luckie wrote that underrepresented groups systematically are excluded from communications. Facebook uses data to determine where to allocate resources — effectively giving more resources to people who already have them.
“In doing so, Facebook is increasing the disparity of access between legacy individuals/brands and minority communities,’ Luckie wrote. “You can see this reflected in everything from the guest lists of Facebook’s external programs, the industry events the company has historically sponsored, the creators and influencers who appear in Explore tabs on Instagram, the power users who are verified on the platforms, and more.”
Luckie also addresses the lack of diversity within the company — a longstanding problem for technology companies. The company announced over the summer that 4% of its employees were black and only 2% hold leadership roles.
“In some buildings, there are more ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters than there are actual black people,” Luckie wrote. “Facebook can’t claim that it is connecting communities if those communities aren’t represented proportionately in its staffing.”
Luckie describes how he and other black employees have confronted racism in the workplace in ways that are both subtle and overt.
“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,” Luckie wrote. “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.”
Luckie experienced this firsthand.
“At least two or three times a day, every day, a colleague at MPK [Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park] will look directly at me and tap or hold their wallet or shove their hands down their pocket to clutch it tightly until I pass,” Luckie wrote.
Luckie outlines ways Facebook could improve its relationship with diverse communities. As for himself, he’s returned to Atlanta to work on a sci-fi podcast and try to rebuild his life.
“Being stationed at Facebook headquarters has required a great deal of sacrifice — being cut off from family, friends, and my now former fiancé, compromising my health and my sense of security. I’ve done all this willingly because I strongly believe in this company and its ability to positively impact the world,” Luckie wrote. “But to continue to witness and be in the center of the systematic disenfranchisement of underrepresented voices, however unintentional, is more than I’m willing to sacrifice personally. I’ve lost the will and the desire to advocate on behalf of Facebook.”
The memo was written and circulated to all of Facebook’s employees on November 8, shortly before Luckie’s final day at the company. His observations represent another in a series of damaging revelations about the social network, including a recent New York Times investigation detailing its slow response to Russian interference ahead of the 2016 election.
Facebook says it’s working to increase the range of perspectives among those who build its products.
“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,” said Anthony Harrison, a Facebook spokesperson. “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.”