Facebook Pitched a Union-Busting Tool It Swears Was Really Just for Bullying

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

As Mark Zuckerberg continues to cement himself as CEO of one of Silicon Valley’s most amoral tech titans — namely by profiting of the slow erosion of democracy — his company has managed to sink to a new level of abhorrent by pitching a tool that could be used to blacklist hashtags related to organised labour.

The Intercept reported Thursday on an internal presentation for new features for the company’s product Workplace, an internal communications tool used by companies like Starbucks and Walmart, both of which are known and aggressive union-busters. According to the Intercept, the presentation touted the potential for “content control” and specifically used the word “unionise” as one such topic that could be barred. The feature triggered such a strong blacklist among Facebook’s own employees, the site reported, that Workplace VP Karandeep Anand later apologised for the example on an internal company forum.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said the company has since canned plans to roll the feature out widely — for the time being.

“While these kinds of content moderation tools are useful for companies, this example was poorly chosen and should never have been used. The feature was only in early development and we’ve pulled any plans to roll it out while we think through next steps,” the Facebook spokesperson said.

Facebook framed these kinds of content moderation tools as resources for curbing harassment and other abuse on these internal platforms. The company said that this feature, in particular, would allow a moderator to delete hashtags from posts that are trending on Workplace without deleting the post itself. Though Facebook said the tool was meant to prevent harmful posts from trending, it’s unclear why “unionize” would be cited as an example for potential removal. It does, however, seem to track for a company whose leader is seemingly leaning ever more fully into his role as an unrelenting supervillain.

It’s also not hard to see the irony in Facebook’s ostensible crusade against abuse on its Workplace platform while Facebook proper continues to face criticism for its own content moderation catastrophes and bizarre defence of posts by President Donald Trump threatening real, explicitly stated violence against Americans. However, Facebook tinkering with a tool that can be used for union-busting — whether or not Facebook explicitly says so — feels utterly unsurprising for a company that’s graduated from embarrassing data leaker to defender of conspiracy horseshit and dangerous misinformation in a relatively short amount of time.

Honestly, do any of us really expect any different at this point?