Facebook Has A ‘Black People Problem’, Former Employee Says. Black Facebook Claps Back With ‘Afrotech Heaven’

Written by Dana Sanchez

Facebook has a “Black people problem” and the platform is failing its Black employees and Black users, former Facebook employee Mark S. Luckie said in a memo he sent to all company employees globally.

The number of Black employees at Facebook does not represent the company’s Black user base, Luckie said, and Facebook’s disenfranchisement of Black people on the platform mirrors the marginalization of its Black employees.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 25: Liz Burr
Jamarlin talks to digital media guru and MIT graduate Liz Burr. They talk about business prospects for podcasting, censoring Black artists and activists online, and how using the N-word got a top exec fired at Netflix.

Black people are finding that their attempts to create ‘safe spaces’ on Facebook for conversation among themselves are being derailed by the platform itself. Non-black people are reporting what are meant to be positive efforts as hate speech, despite them often not violating Facebook’s terms of service. Their content is removed without notice. Accounts are suspended indefinitely.” — former Facebook employee Mark S. Luckie.

Luckie shared anecdotes about how he and other people of color are treated, but also backed up his observations with research.

In some buildings on the Facebook campus, there are more “Black Lives Matter” posters than there are actual Black people, Luckie said. There is often more diversity in keynote presentations than the teams who present them.

“Facebook can’t claim that it is connecting communities if those communities aren’t represented proportionately in its staffing,” Luckie said in the memo, which was circulated on Nov. 8, shortly before his last day at the company.

Black people are one of the most engaged demographics on Facebook, far outpacing other groups in several engagement metrics, he said. They are driving the kind of meaningful social interactions Facebook strives to facilitate.

Black people problem
Image: Mark S. Luckie Twitter

African Americans use Facebook to communicate with family (63 percent) and friends (60 percent) compared to 53-and-54-percent of the general population, according to research paid for by Facebook.

Luckie worked at Facebook as a strategic partner manager for global influencers focused on underrepresented voices. This, he said, gave him unique exposure to the issues surrounding the internal and external representation of Black people at the company. Some patterns emerged, he said, through formal meetings, backchannel conversations, and casual chats over coffee.

In the past five years, Black employees overall increased from 2 percent to 4 percent at Facebook, according to the company’s 2018 Diversity Report, released on July 12, 2018. This was the fifth such diversity report published by Facebook. Each year, the company admits it has a diversity problem and is committed to fixing it.

Facebook said the percentage of Black employees in business and sales roles grew from 2 percent to 8 percent during the past five years. However, the percentage of Black employees in technical roles remained flat, as did the percentage of Black employees in leadership roles, at 1 percent and 2 percent respectively.

“We continue to have challenges recruiting Black and Hispanic employees in technical roles and senior leadership,” said Maxine Williams, Facebook’s chief diversity officer, in the report.

There are 37,144,530 non-Hispanic Black people in the U.S. — 12.1 percent of the population — according to the 2010 U.S. Census. This number increased to 42 million when including Multiracial African Americans, who make up 14 percent of the total U.S. population.

“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 … 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.” — Mark S. Luckie

In a private tweet, a Facebook leader responded to Luckie’s post, saying he was disappointed. “The post landed on me as pretty self-serving and disingenuous,” said Ime Archibong, vice president of strategic partnerships at Facebook. Luckie shared the tweet publicly:

I’m just confused and pretty hurt because I voted for your hire, was inspired by your willingnsess to strengthen the community, and that post just seems so out of character,” Archibong wrote. “There have been people that have been here for over a decade working hard to build a strong community at FB, and for someone to try hijack all their hard work and speak on behalf of the Facebook experience after being here for a few months — rather than just speaking on behalf of your own Faceook experience — feels wrong.”

Archibong invited Luckie to keep the lines of communication open. “Let me know if you want to chat this week, but understand if you’re deep in Afrotech heaven.”

Here are some key takeaways from Luckie’s memo:

  • Racial discrimination at Facebook is real.
  • HR is often a dead end.
  • Low morale leads to low production.

He wrapped up his memo with a slew of recommendations for Facebook, including the following:

  • Provide competency training for 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 work schedule.
  • Support emerging talent and brands by creating a pipeline of communication and scaled support that allows them to further build with the platform.

Luckie said he cared deeply about the company, but added that working at Facebook compromised his health and sense of security. He said he plans to rebuild his life and the confidence and optimism that brought him to Facebook. He recently launched a sci-fi drama podcast, Sumeria.