By A Former Facebook Editor

A Facebook contractor that worked as an editor states that Facebook did not impose political bias on news ‘trenders.’ However, she and her workmates were mismanaged, intimidated and sexism was rampant. She remembers being present when stronger characters were driving the trends and it was always “directed” to help produce positive democratic results.

Facebook can’t seem to do anything like normal folk. They’re unable to call editors, well “editors.” Instead they refer to them as ‘curators’ with the idea that we were caring for some kind of museum collection.

One female editor told us that she was responsible for  choosing what would appear in Facebook’s Trending box on user’s news-feeds.  She says she’d sift through thousands of keywords in order to create headlines and summaries that would be listed on the trend box.

The former Facebook editor states that the majority of what the public had read about Facebook’s Trending team in Gizmodo over the last few months was specifically mischaracterized or deliberately taken out of context.

She personally had never been asked to suppress conservative news but she is familiar with co-workers that were pressured into dropping conservative news.

“We were extremely talented but we were really poorly managed. We were often threatened within “a joke” as if the threat were said jokingly – it was somehow acceptable. It was very distressing to hear those types of jokes that suggested you were endangering your job for wanting to go to lunch when you were starving and hadn’t eaten in hours,” she said sadly.

She continued… “Men working at Facebook had their favorites and practiced favoritism liberally. They were sexist in their gestures, jokes and day-to-day interactions. It was like a boy’s frat house.  Many women, not just me, found the environment very hard to work within. My co-workers were voiceless, angry and depressed as was I.”

She remembers that the first report she read on Gizmodo detailed their work conditions. Unfortunately, the most important thing the editors had complained about and that had affected them the most, was not mentioned at all.

She said that “The articles made us sound like privileged valley girls. The real problem at Facebook was the generally accepted “sexist” work environment.” Numerous sexism allegations were reported but supervisors never heard, or recorded and certainly did not act upon anything brought to the table. All complaints by women basically fell on deaf ears. Some days Cheryl couldn’t be approached at all. She has some kind of “spell” that comes over her some days where she refuses to hear negative news. She can’t hear complaints and in general she refuses to hear anyone out about anything. She only wanted to hear “good news” on those days.

And we had no way of knowing which days those days were. It frustrated everyone but Zuckerberg thinks that as long as he treats her well, he doesn’t have to treat anyone else well. It’s as though he thinks that whatever positive thing he does for us — trickled to the rest of the women.

For such a highly principled millennial married to a physician, it always floored many of us women how Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg could move on with new projects as though they did not realize a serious complaint about sexism had been taken to Human Resources and was sitting on the table like a 300 lb. gorilla. It was as though they completely didn’t want to know of if they knew, but just did not give a damn.

And while Sheryl Sandberg constantly talks (in front of cameras) about how women should “lean in,” women ARE RARELY if at all invited to participate. Zuckerberg, Sandberg and most supervisors prefer to see women and not hear them.

“On numerous occasions, I spoke up about the Trending tool not being operational or having a discrepancy that contradicted the guidelines.  It was clear they did not want me to speak. However, if a day later, a man stated exactly what I had said a day before — he was congratulated for being aware of the problem, congratulated again for reporting it and gained points for doing so.”

Women on the other side of the table would say aloud, “Didn’t you just say that yesterday?”  And the supervisors were clearly annoyed that a woman had made, then voiced the observation and worse, that she said it aloud.

Both male and female supervisors prefer women to be “pretty and quiet.”

They were comfortable with a man actually using ideas women had already submitted. It was as if when an idea came out of the mouth of a man — it somehow had merit. In time, as women come into the Facebook environment, they learn not to participate and they stop contributing.

There was an occasion where a woman reported a time card approval error to her direct manager. She was summarily brushed off, being told that “there was nothing wrong” – the supervisor wouldn’t even look into it.

A week or so later, male contractors were missing hours from their paychecks. The response to the men was the complete opposite of how the woman was treated. The supervisor bent backwards to solve the problem so that the men would be paid immediately.

On another occasion a woman asked for a standard response that she could give everyone because copy editors had different standards. She wanted an answer that would be applicable to all since we were all in the same pay grade. Instead of help and clarification, she was told to “stop encouraging animosity amongst the staff because it would lead to them picking sides against one another.” She never received a clarification (and she never asked again).

We earned anywhere between $55,000 to $65,000 annually and as long as you stayed in the building your meals were free. That’s good money in the media industry. But between 2014 and until recently, the team has an extremely high turn over. And of the 15 who have left, 10 of us were women.

In our exit interviews each of the women reported the sexism they are subjected to but the supervisors did absolutely nothing.

And while Facebook is diligent about hiring journalists for editorial insight specifically for the Trending unit, we were always at the mercy of the engineers’ whims. We were not informed that the Trending tool or related products had been changed thus would behave differently. The changes were initiated without consulting us at all because women don’t matter at Facebook.

The Trending team prioritized scale over editorial quality all the time. It forced contractors like myself to work under tremendous pressure in order to meet very high, unrealistic quotas. The scheduling was changed at a whim and miscommunication was so frequent that most of us wondered if they might not be conducting some kind of lab rat test to see how we’d hold up under such ridiculous expectations.

Facebook heavily depends on 10 news sources to choose whether a story is news or “trend” worthy. While we repeatedly begged to know what the standard was, no one would ever say and that was deliberate.

Depending on whether one was working with a Catholic, a Jew, an Islamic or a Christian fundamentalist, that person’s personal faith determined what “the standard” was for that day, within that group. Fundamentalist women tended to defer to men so whatever the men wanted generally became the trending lead. Gay rights activists, atheists and other strongly spoken workmates accustomed to speaking up and asserting their rights would lead the trend and became predominant on the team while they were there.

Facebook specifically taught me not to use Twitter and a few editors were punished for using Twitter descriptions.

Editors have no choice or protection and no access to Human Resources to file a complaint about an attitude or behavior that was coming from the top. For instance, Facebook would invite all employees (and I mean all of them) many whom knew nothing about journalism to go ahead and make recommendations for the internal “trending feedback group.”  Many would complain about our work even though they know nothing about what we were doing or what our purpose was and then managers would shift the blame of problems on editors and publicly throw us under the bus.

We were often forced to meet numbers we could not keep up with and were forbidden to break for lunch. And there is a tracker that monitors when and how late editors were either coming in or returned from a meal. Managers kid themselves that it’s secret but supervisors use it often to threaten workers.

In general, editors were not allowed to post in other internal groups. We were not invited to Facebook events and we were told to be cautious about what we actually said (to anyone — especially each other). And whenever we took days off (which was our right), we were punished by being moved to the overnight shifts. There was a clear vindictiveness to it.

There is no question that Facebook editors identify themselves with pride and I made more money than most of my friends working in other editing jobs, but the environment was horrible. I became accustomed to knowing there was a better way to do something and saying nothing. I became accustomed to knowing the quicker solution to something but had been trained to keep my mouth shut.

On the matter of the Winklevoss twins, several of us were having lunch one day and two guys at the table were talking about some business success the twins had enjoyed. I wasn’t in the conversation so I didn’t know the details. A supervisor standing 8 or 9 feet away got on her cell phone looking annoyed. She had actually called her own supervisor who came over to talk to her. You could see they were actually listening to the two guys talk about the twins saying they were “bad asses.”  When we went back to work — their desks were already cleared and we never saw them again.

Then there is a very dangerous pracctice that happened several times while I was there that actually terrified me and several co-workers.

Mark Zuckerberg in his paranoia that competitors are trying to take him down, would literally have security lock all the exits if a publication or broadcast said something about him he didn’t like.

He would order all doors locked with all of us inside. Locking all doors wasn’t for our safety to avoid danger possibly coming into our buildings. Locking the doors was meant to lock all of us inside because he was angry that some editor at Yahoo or CNN had said something he felt insulted him personally. Locking the doors was Zuckerberg’s way of controlling people.  Since he couldn’t control his critics, he would lock us all in.

When someone would return from the ladies room asking what was going on (because you could cut the tension in the air with a knife), we would mouth the word “Triangle” as in the Chicago Triangle shirtwaist fire.

No human being, no matter how rich he or she is, should have the legal authority to endanger the lives of so many over personal pride and God damned tantrums.

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  • Cuentame Paisano

    And I thought the slaves in the South prior to 1860 had it tough! It’s hard to contradict the notion that money spoils and a lot of money spoils even more!