The publication of a June 2016 memo describing the consequences of Facebook's growth to a minimum. sparked an emotional conversation at the company today. An internal publication reacting to the story found that employees were angry and heartbroken that their teammates were sharing internal company discussions with the media. Many called on the company to step up its war on leakers and hire employees with more "integrity."
Thursday night, BuzzFeed published a memo from Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, a Facebook vice president currently leading its hardware efforts. In the memo, Bosworth says the company's core function is to connect people, despite the consequences he repeatedly called "ugly." "That's why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact import practices," he wrote. "All the subtle language that helps people continue to be sought out by friends. All the work we do to bring more communication. The work we will probably have to do in China someday. All of it."
Bosworth distanced himself from the note, saying in a Twitter post that he had disagreed with those words, even as he wrote them. He was trying to galvanize a discussion about the company's growth strategy, he said. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told BuzzFeed that he disagreed with the sentiments in the message at the time, and that growth should not be a means to an end in itself. "We recognize that connecting people is not enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together," Zuckerberg said.
After posting the note, Bosworth deleted his original post. "While I won't go so far as to call it a straw man, that post was definitely designed to provoke a response," Bosworth wrote in a memo obtained by The Verge . "It effectively served as a call for people throughout the company to engage in discussion about how we conduct ourselves amidst the changing mores of the online community. The publication had no particular consequences in and of itself, it was the impressive comments. A conversation over the years that was alive and even entering this week.
"That conversation is now gone," Bosworth continued. "And I won't be the one to bring it up for fear that it will be misunderstood by a broader population that doesn't have a full context about who we are and how we work."
Facebook and Bosworth declined to comment.
Nearly 3,000 employees had reacted to Bosworth's memo when they The Verge saw, responding with a mix of "like," "sad," and "angry." Many employees rallied to Bosworth's side, praising him for sharing his feelings about sensitive company issues using blunt language.
Others criticized Bosworth for removing the post, saying it fed a narrative about the company having something to hide. "Deleting things generally looks bad in hindsight," wrote one. "Please don't fuel the fire by giving more fuel to these people (e.g., Facebook execs deleting internal communications)." If we are no longer open and transparent, but work and delete, our culture is also destroyed, but by our own hand."
Dozens of employees criticized the strangers at the company. "Leakers, please resign instead of sabotaging the company," wrote one in a comment under Bosworth's post. Wrote another, "How fucking terrible that an irresponsible idiot decided he had some god complex that endangers our inner culture and something that makes Facebook great."
Several employees suggested that Facebook try to evaluate employees for a high degree of "integrity" during the hiring process. "While we all subconsciously look for signs of integrity in interviews, should we consider whether this should be formalized in the interview process?" one wrote.
Wrote another, "This is so disappointing, I wonder if there is a way to hire for integrity. We are probably focusing on the intelligence part and getting smart people who lack moral compass and loyalty."
Other employees said it would be difficult to detect leaks before taking action.
"I don't think we've seen a major data breach leaked internally, but I've always thought our 'open but punitive' stance was particularly vulnerable to suicide bombers," one employee wrote. "It would be foolish to think we have could adequately detect against them in a hiring process at our scale. ... We have our representative share of sick people, drug addicts, wife beaters and suicide bombers. Some of this cannot be mitigated by training. To me, this makes it just a matter of time."
That employee followed him and said, "My goodness, I ran back to my computer after a half-eaten lunch with food in my mouth. APOLOGIES to our brothers in sisters in the Austin Office for my insensitive choice of metaphors/words. Sorry."
Another theory raised by multiple employees is that Facebook has been targeted by spies or state actors hoping to embarrass the company. "Keep in mind that the leakers could be intentionally bad actors, not just employees making a bad decision," wrote one. "Thinking counterintuitively, if you wanted information from Facebook, the easiest path would be to get people hired to fill employee positions or low-level contracts." Another wrote: "Imagine a percentage of leakers being spies for governments. A call for morale or performance issues would be irrelevant in this case, because dissolution is the intent of those actors. If that is our threat, and maybe it is, given the current political situation? - So is it even possible to build a default system to open up,
Several employees shared concerns that the leaks had taken some of the shine off Facebook. The company is routinely cited as one of the best places to work in the United States.
"If this leakage # $% ^ continues, we will become like any other company where people hesitate to discuss far-reaching and forward-looking ideas and thoughts, that only average ideas and thoughts are discussed and executed," said one employee. wrote: "Turn them into average companies."
Another employee responded, "Will it convert? It looks like we are there.
The leaks also became cause for discussion about the company's internal sharing tools. Facebook runs on its enterprise product, Facebook for Work. One employee wondered if critics of the leakers had ignored the incentives to share created by the product itself. It's a nuanced thought worth sharing in its entirety:
"It is interesting to note that this discussion is about leaks that push us to be more conscious of our sharing decisions. The result is that we are incentivized to achieve tighter audience management and awareness of what our past internal publications will look like when they resurface today. We blame some ill-intentioned employees for this change.
"Facebook's non-employee user base is also experiencing a similar shift: the shift toward ephemeral, direct sharing results as they realize that social media posts that were widely shared and searchable forever can become a major liability today.
A key difference between the external discussion and the internal discussion is that the external blames the Facebook product for pushing people to make those broad sharing decisions years ago, while internally the focus is entirely on the employees."
Another employee made a similar plea for empathy. "Can we channel our outrage at the mishandling of our information into empathy for the plight of our users? Can deleting a post help us better understand #deletefacebook? How do we encourage ourselves to remain open while acknowledging a world that doesn't always respect the audience and the intention that information is the key to everything. Maybe we should try it?
For his part, Bosworth promised employees that he would continue to share his candid thoughts on Facebook, but said he would likely post less. "When you post you run the risk of me having to blow up my schedule and defend myself to the national press," she wrote, "you can imagine it's an inhibitor."
Here is Bosworth's full memo to the company today.
I'm feeling a little heartbroken tonight.
Several reporters were contacted today with different stories containing inside information leaks.
In response to one of the leaks, I've decided to remove a post I published a couple of years ago about our mission to connect people and the ways we grow. While I won't go so far as to call it a straw man, that post was definitely designed to provoke a response. It effectively served as a call for people across the company to engage in discussion about how we behave amidst the changing mores of the online community. The post had no particular consequences in and of itself, it was the impressive comments. A conversation over the years that was alive and even entering this week.
That conversation is now gone. And I won't be the one to bring it back for fear that it will be misinterpreted by a broader population that doesn't have a full context about who we are and how we work.
This is the real cost of leakage. We had a sensitive subject in which we could openly engage and explore even bad ideas, even if only to eliminate them. If we have to live in fear that even our bad ideas will be exposed, then we will not explore them or understand them as such, we will not clearly label them as such, we will run a much greater risk of stumbling on them later. Conversations go underground or don't happen at all. And not only are we worse off for it, so are the people who use our products.