Facebook employees snapped as unresponsive management did nothing on Jan 6th: 'We’re FB, not some naive startup'
Mark Zuckerberg and Capitol rioters on January 6, 2021. (AFP/Shutterstock)

According to a report from Politico, based on the so-called "Facebook Papers" and internal company chatlogs, employees of the social media giant were both vocal and frustrated with the company's upper management on Jan 6th and the days that led up to the pro-Donald Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The tech giant is under increasing fire after whistleblower Frances Haugen, who worked as a Facebook product manager until May, provided documents and testimony to Congress suggesting that the company had put profits before the safety of the public. The newly released -- but partially redacted -- documents paint a portrait of company employees who raised alarms at the prospect of violence that fell on the deaf ears of decision-makers.

According to Politico's Alexandra Levine, "In the days and hours leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, engineers and other experts in Facebook's Elections Operations Center were throwing tool after tool at dangerous claims spreading across the platform, " before adding that, "Internal company documents show Facebook had no clear playbook for handling some of the most dangerous material on its platform: content delegitimizing the U.S. elections. Such claims fell into a category of 'harmful non-violating narratives' that stopped just short of breaking any rules."

With those restraints in mind, one employee responded to memos from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CTO Mike Schroepfer (who told workers "Hang in there everyone" on Jan 6th as the riot ramped up) by writing back, "How are we expected to ignore when leadership overrides research based policy decisions to better serve people like the groups inciting violence today. Rank and file workers have done their part to identify changes to improve our platform but have been actively held back."

According to the report, Facebook engineers, on their own initiative, began creating "misinfo pipelines" tools Jan. 5 or early Jan. 6, that would have censored false stories claiming Donald Trump had invoked the Insurrection Act to stay in power and later another tool that would have wiped out "praise and support of 'storm the Capitol' events."

But implementing those tools was delayed by unresponsive managers.

"They faced delays in getting needed approvals to carry out their work. They struggled with 'major' technical issues. And above all, without set guidance on how to address the surging delegitimization material they were seeing, there were misses and inconsistencies in the content moderation," Politico reports.

While Facebook has maintained that their AI should have worked to suppress objectionable content, one researcher claimed it looks like human failure.

According to Emerson Brooking, of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, "I don't think that Facebook's technical processes failed on January 6. Instead, I think that Facebook's senior leadership failed to deal aggressively enough with the election delegitimization that made Jan. 6 possible in the first place."

Those comments were echoed by one Facebook employee who complained on a company message board on the day of the riot: "We're FB, not some naive startup. With the unprecedented resources we have, we should do better."

Another employee responded to comments from CTO Schroepfer by writing, "I'm struggling to match my values to my employment here. I came here hoping to effect change and improve society, but all I've seen is atrophy and abdication of responsibility."

You can read more here.