On June 11, Lee Fang at The Intercept reported that Facebook is rolling out a new product for corporations that would allow employees to communicate and collaborate via chat. The killer feature for the new app is that it would allow the companies and Facebook to blacklist and mute topics among their staff that deal with unionization.
I called out the practice when I read the article. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pointed out yesterday, censoring employees’ speech about joining a union is illegal. Last night, after backlash online, Facebook reversed course and said it will not roll out the feature widely to other companies.
Just pulling back the feature isn’t enough. Let me explain.
Facebook has said that it would address white supremacists, dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus, and calls for violence on the organization’s platforms. We know, despite those pledges, that disinformation, white supremacists and conspiracy theories on Facebook are rampant.
When it comes to COVID-19 disinformation, ask AFT nurses like Jesse in Wisconsin who have spoken out about not only treating patients with COVID-19 but also about dealing with bad health disinformation on Facebook.
John Brady, vice president of AFT Connecticut and a registered nurse, talked about what disinformation has meant in Connecticut hospitals ahead of Facebook’s shareholders’ meeting two weeks ago. Nurses tell me they feel like they are fighting two viruses at the moment: COVID-19 and disinformation around COVID-19; and Facebook is a superspreader of the disinformation.
Unlike in Facebook’s advertising — where it is acknowledging that Trump can lie and the company won’t stop him — Facebook has said that it will stop disinformation around COVID-19, but disinformation on the coronavirus persists on Facebook to dangerous effects.
While ignoring threats to the public, the company is rolling out tools that monitor and censor conversations employees are having if they are discussing union activity.
Facebook needs to do more.
Facebook needs to follow through on the commitment it has made to deal with disinformation around COVID-19 and the election, and it needs to deal with the groups on the platform that are spreading that disinformation. Facebook needs to ensure that any false conspiracy theories that would undermine our health or democracy — including in paid political ads — are quickly stopped from spreading.
Facebook employees are speaking out about Trump’s Facebook posts inciting violence. The company needs to be clear that it respects the labor rights of its employees and contractors. Facebook needs to publicly state whether it has used these monitoring tools to limit its employees’ ability to discuss joining a union or collective action in the workplace.