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HomeTechHow Watermelon Cupcakes Kicked Off an Internal Storm at Meta

How Watermelon Cupcakes Kicked Off an Internal Storm at Meta

Paresh Dave, Vittoria Elliott

Williams in her note explained that “‘Prayers for …’ any location where there is a war in process might be taken down, but prayers for those impacted by a natural disaster, for example, might stay up.” She continued, “We know people may not agree with this approach, but it’s one of the trade-offs we made to ensure we maintain a productive place for everyone.”

Pain and Distress

Meanwhile, Arab and Muslim workers expressed disappointment that last month’s World Refugee Week commemorations inside Meta included talks about human rights projects and refugee experiences and lunches featuring Ukrainian and Syrian food but nothing mentioning Palestinians. (WIRED has viewed the internal schedule for the week.)

They were similarly dismayed that Meta’s Oversight Board, which advises on content policies, wrote in Hebrew, but not Arabic, to solicit public comments about the Palestinian human rights expression “from the river to the sea,” including whether it’s antisemitic. An Oversight Board spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The workers also remain frustrated that Meta hasn’t met their demands from December to remove the Instagram accounts of anti-hate watchdog groups such as Canary Mission and StopAntisemitism that have been shaming Palestinian supporters in alleged violation of platform rules against bullying. Leaders of PWG met with Meta executives including Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs, who vowed to keep dialog with workers open. But the accounts remain up, and Canary Mission and StopAntisemitism each have added about 15,000 followers since demands were drafted.

Taking it as a sign of the uphill battle they face, the employees recently seized on a photograph on Instagram showing Nicola Mendelsohn, head of Meta’s Global Business Group, posing beside Liora Rez, founder and executive director of StopAntisemitism. Rez tells WIRED that her group does not hesitate calling individuals out for antisemitic views and alerting their employers, but declined further comment. Canary Mission says in an unsigned statement that “there needs to be accountability” for antisemitism.

The disputes over Meta’s response to Gaza discussions have had cascading effects. In May, Meta’s internal community team shut down some planned Memorial Day commemorations to honor military veterans at the company. An employee asked for explanation in an internal forum with over 11,000 members, drawing a reply from Meta’s chief technology officer, Andrew Bosworth, who wrote that polarizing discussions about “regions or territories that are unrecognized” had in part required revisiting planning and oversight of all sorts of activities.

While honoring veterans was “apolitical,” Bosworth wrote in the post seen by WIRED, the CEE rules needed to be applied consistently to survive under labor laws. “There are groups that are zealously looking for an excuse to undermine our company policies,” he wrote.

Some Arab and Muslim workers felt Bosworth’s comments alluded to them. “I don’t want to work anywhere that is actively discriminating against my community,” says one Meta worker who’s nearly ready to leave. “It makes me sick that I work for this company.”

Meta hasn’t let up on CEE enforcement in recent weeks. Workers remain barred from holding vigil internally. As a result, they planned to gather near the company’s New York and San Francisco offices this evening to recognize colleagues who have lost family in Gaza to the war, according to the Meta4employees Instagram account and two of the sources. They are curious to see how the company tries, if at all, to stop the memorial, which the public is invited to attend.

Ashraf Zeitoon, who was Facebook’s head of Middle East and North Africa policy from 2014 to 2017 and still mentors many Arab employees at Meta, says discontent among those workers has soared. He used to push long-timers to quit when they were frustrated; now he has to convince recent hires to stay long enough to give the company a chance to evolve.

“Unprecedented levels” of restrictions and enforcement have been “extremely painful and distressing for them,” Zeitoon says. It seems that the emotions Meta had wanted to avoid by keeping talk of war out of the workplace cannot be so easily suppressed.

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