Facebook accused of discriminating against black people – why diversity isn’t just an HR problem

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WATCH: 'That's a really hard question': Zuckerberg asked to define hate speech – Apr 10, 2018

“Facebook has a black people problem.”

That’s the start of a memo by Mark Luckie, a former digital strategist at Facebook, sent companywide just before he quit.

In the memo – which was also published publicly to Facebook – he details how a lack of black people working at the social media company translates to how black people are being treated on Facebook.

He says that black people are “one of the most engaged demographics” on Facebook; over 60 per cent of them use the platform to connect to their family and friends at least once a day, compared to the average of 53 per cent.

But despite the fact that they use it so much, their experience on the platform is “sometimes far from positive,” Luckie explained.

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There have been documented cases of Facebook censoring content by black people – in 2017 a black woman’s post that started with “Dear white people,” was removed and she was suspended, but when white people posted the same message, no action was taken.

Ivona Hideg, a professor of business at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., says she wasn’t surprised by the accusations in the memo.

“There is research showing that black voices are underrepresented in media,” she told Global News. “The fact is there is this underrepresentation of hearing black voices, black opinions.”

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She said that she couldn’t comment about the accusation by Luckie on Facebook’s community without knowing more, but that other research does support his conclusion.

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“A diverse workforce is more likely to seek out and include diverse populations,” she said.

“If you don’t know who your customer is then you don’t necessarily know what your customer wants,” agreed Michael Bach, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion.

“Diversity leads to higher levels of innovation, higher levels of creative problem solving,” Bach said. “All of the studies bear that out.”

He said Canada also has a considerable way to go – a report released in January of this year said most job-seekers in the tech industry were visible minorities.

Luckie also spoke out about how African-American employees are treated at the company. He said black employees are commonly told: “I didn’t know black people worked at Facebook.”

“In some buildings, there are more ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters than there are actual black people,” Luckie said.

He also details how some employees were called “aggressive” and others detailed experiences of others clutching their wallets when a black employee passed.

“I would love to tell you that any of that was a surprise for me,” Bach said, “But I’ve been doing this a long time. So I’m realistic.”

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“I think the author… does a fantastic job of articulating [the issue].”

Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison responded to the accusations saying the company has been working to improve diversity over the past few years.

“The growth in representation of people from more diverse groups, working in many different functions across the company, is a key driver of our ability to succeed,” Harrison said in a statement to CNN. “We want to fully support all employees when there are issues reported and when there may be micro-behaviours that add up. We are going to keep doing all we can to be a truly inclusive company.”

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