‘Profiting Off Hate’: Facebook Engineer Quits With Fierce Letter

Ashok Chandwaney wrote Facebook is “choosing to be on the wrong side of history”, not following its 5 core values.

The Indian American
4 min read
Ashok Chandwaney quit Facebook after a five-and-a-half year stint with the company.

"I'm quitting because I can no longer stomach contributing to an organisation that is profiting off hate in the US and globally,” said Ashok Chandwaney in a scathing 1,300-word resignation letter to Facebook, stepping down after a five-and-a-half year stint with the company.

"Facebook is choosing to be on the wrong side of history," they further stated.

In their letter posted on Facebook's internal employee network on Tuesday, Chandwaney systematically decoded how Facebook has been unable to uphold its five core values – Be Bold, Focus on Impact, Move Fast, Be Open, and Build Social Value.

“We don’t benefit from hate," Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois said in a statement to Washington Post. “We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and are in deep partnership with outside experts to review and update our policies,” Bourgeois added in her response.

What’s Wrong with ‘Be Bold’?

"Often, I hear people explain how hard it is to do things like remove hate content, stop hate organising, or etc. To me being bold means seeing something that's hard to do but, knowing it’s the right thing to do, rolling up my sleeves, and diving in," wrote Chandwaney.

"Boldness is not, on the other hand, taking a pass on implementing the recommendations from organised civil rights advocates...as we have done," they wrote.

‘Focus on Impact’ – But Not Quite?

Speaking of Facebook's ‘Focus on Impact’, Chandwaney's letter is filled with links, citing specific incidents of Facebook's failures and mishaps, such as the company obstructing an investigation into the genocide in Myanmar and failing to remove an event encouraging people to shoot and kill protesters in Kenosha.

Chandwaney also highlighted President Donald Trump's infamous "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" post from 29 May, which Facebook has still refused to remove. Twitter, in contrast, hid the post from Trump for "glorifying violence".

“Every day ‘the looting starts, the shooting starts’ stays up is a day that we choose to minimise regulatory risk at the expense of the safety of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.”

"Violent hate groups and far-right militias are out there, and they’re using Facebook to recruit and radicalise people who will go on to commit violent hate crimes. So where’s the metric about this," questioned Chadwaney.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Facebook spokesperson also stated, “This summer we launched an industry leading policy to go after QAnon, grew our fact-checking program, and removed millions of posts tied to hate organizations — over 96% of which we found before anyone reported them to us.”

Move Fast

“I’ve been told repeatedly ‘Facebook moves much faster than {company x}. In my work, moving fast looks like bias to action: when presented with a problem, I execute towards a solution with haste. Sometimes, this has meant learning about a bug in a meeting, and fixing it before the meeting is over. The contrast between that and our approach to hate on platform is astonishing.”

Chandwaney also expressed disappointment at the inaction beyond the company's civil rights audit released in July. Facebook's own two-year long audit demonstrated that the company made decisions that caused "significant setbacks for civil rights" through its content, they said, labelling it nothing more than a PR stunt.

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
(Photo: iStock)

Facebook has previously stated that the impact of COVID-19 has limited its ability to moderate content as effectively.

A spokesperson for the company stated that, "‘With fewer content reviewers, we took action on fewer pieces of content on both Facebook and Instagram for suicide and self-injury, and child nudity and sexual exploitation on Instagram."

"Despite these decreases, we prioritised and took action on the most harmful content within these categories,” the tech company said, adding, "Our focus remains on finding and removing this content while increasing reviewer capacity as quickly and as safely as possible."

Facebook has also stated that they are putting in place a ‘Diversity Advisory Council that will provide input based on lived experience on a variety of topics and issues’ and is updating its policies to remove ‘implicit hate speech’ such as ‘content depicting blackface’ and ‘stereotypes about Jewish people controlling the world’.

What About Building Social Value?

"What I wish I saw were a serious prioritisation of social good even when there isn’t an immediately obvious business value to it, or when there may be business harm that comes from it," wrote Chandwaney, speaking of Facebook looking for business value over their core focus of ‘building social value’.

"In all my roles across the company, at the end of the day, the decisions have actually come down to business value," they said.

"It seems that Facebook hasn’t found the business value to be had in aggressively pursuing the existing credible strategies to remove hate from the platform – despite pressure from civil society, our own employees, our own consultants, and our own customers via the boycott," the letter mentioned.

"I do assume – as required by policy – best intent of all my co-workers including leadership," wrote Chandwaney. "It’s just, I can’t point to facts that substantiate that assumption when looking at our repeated failures to confront the hate and violence occurring and being organised on platform," they concluded.

(With inputs from Washington Post)

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