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Facebook employee warned colleagues were ‘drunk on power’: docs

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A Facebook employee accused colleagues of being “drunk on power” last summer as they debated the company’s response to unrest during Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wis., according to an internal discussion obtained by The Post.

The warning came after the company took down posts that supported Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who killed two people during the Kenosha unrest in August 2020. Facebook had deemed many of the pro-Rittenhouse posts — some of which read “Free Kyle” — to be in violation of the site’s rules.

Most Facebook employees in the internal discussion appeared to favor the company’s moves. But the dissenter accused staff of exerting too much control over the spread of information. 

“The rioting has been going on for over three months and it’s only an issue now because people inside the company saw violence they didn’t like,” the staffer said. “Employees are drunk on the absolute power of being in control of civics in America, without ever having to visit a voting booth (if voting is even an option).” 

The internal debate came five days after Rittenhouse, who was then 17 years old, used an assault rifle to shoot and kill two people, including one who had a pistol, during the Kenosha unrest. Rittenhouse is facing murder and attempted murder charges for the killings but has pleaded not guilty and argued that he was acting in self defense.

Facebook documents
Facebook employees debated the company’s response to violence in Kenosha, according to documents obtained by The Post.

The name of the Facebook employee who accused colleagues of being “drunk on power” was redacted in the version of the document obtained by The Post.

A Facebook data scientist had started the discussion about Rittenhouse on the employee comment board. He also questioned Facebook’s response to content related to the shooting. 

Facebook’s rules ban praise, support or representation of a mass shooter, or a mass shooting itself. Content that supported Rittenhouse circulated widely in the days following the shooting, The Guardian reported. Fundraisers supporting Rittenhouse and “Free Kyle” memes racked up thousands of shares on Facebook and Instagram before being taken down, according to the outlet. 

In his post, the data scientist acknowledged media reports about Rittenhouse-related content, questioned whether Facebook was taking the right approach to moderating posts in support of the shooter and pointed out that the company’s content rules were vague. 

“Can we really consistently and objectively differentiate between support (not allowed) and discussion of whether [Rittenhouse] is being treated justly (allowed)?” the data scientist wrote. “Try reading the posts mentioning him and see if you can separate violating from non-violating content.” 

Facebook headquarters
“Employees are drunk on the absolute power of being in control of civics in America, without ever having to visit a voting booth (if voting is even an option),” one employee wrote.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I know that our company is full of dedicated smart people who want to do the right thing,” the data scientist wrote. “However, I don’t think the current system we are working in enables us to succeed, even as we have the money, talent and motivation that should lead us on the right path.” 

Yet the dissenter’s response to the data scientist shows that Facebook’s workforce is divided on how active of a role the company should take in regulating speech. 

Kyle Rittenhouse
Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two people during unrest in Kenosha, Wis., in the summer of 2020.
AP

The data scientist’s complaints echo those of whistleblower Frances Haugen and were revealed in disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by Haugen’s legal counsel.

A consortium of news organizations, including The Post, has obtained the redacted versions received by Congress. 

The revelations have led to outrage from policymakers around the world. On Tuesday night, the company reportedly ordered employees to “preserve internal documents and communications since 2016” due to governmental inquiries into the company, the New York Times reported

Documents leaked by Haugen have also shed light on Instagram’s damaging effects on teen mental health, Facebook’s struggles to crack down on human traffickers who use the site and a slate of other issues. 

“As you are probably aware, we’re currently the focus of extensive media coverage based on a swath of internal documents,” Facebook said in the email to employees, according to the paper. “As is often the case following this kind of reporting, a number of inquiries from governments and legislative bodies have been launched into the company’s operations.”

On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg angrily accused whistleblowers and journalists of plotting against the company. 

“My view is that what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company,” Zuckerberg said in a call with Facebook investors.

Facebook didn’t respond specifically to a question from The Post on the employees’ comments on the internal discussion board. A spokeswoman said Facebook has an “industry-leading policy” to address what it called “militarized social movements.”

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Lila Lee

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