Opinion: Zuck's Hypocrisy on 'Black Lives Matter'

If the Bay Area leaned any further left, it would fall into the Pacific Ocean. Of course a Mega Quake on California’s San Andreas Fault could speed that along considerably, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just kidding. I live here too, you know. Besides, geek lives matter, right? I mean, they do, don’t they?

Well, not exactly. Some employees have taken to writing “black lives matter” on the walls of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. I guess the social media company has some chalkboard walls – sort of a low-tech version of a Facebook page before walls were replaced by timelines.

That’s totally cool with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but what isn’t cool with Zuck is that employees have been crossing out the civil rights slogan and writing “all lives matter” in its place. In a memo to employees, the founder admonished the defacers for what he says is tantamount to “silencing speech.”

The missive implies that simply writing “all lives matter” in addition would have been fine. I’d go along with that distinction, had he stopped there. Instead he went on to preach what some might see as a controversial and offensive viewpoint, while representing it as being on behalf of everyone in the company.

Not only did Zuckerberg express his extreme disappointment with such “unacceptable,” “disrespectful” and “malicious” behavior, but stated that “there are specific issues affecting the black community in the United States, coming from a history of oppression and racism,” and that community, he says, is simply asking for “the justice they deserve.”

He went on t say that, “This has been a deeply hurtful and tiresome experience for the black community and really the entire Facebook community, and we are now investigating the current incidents,” and encouraged employees to participate in a Facebook town hall “to educate themselves about what the Black Lives Matter movement is about.”

Really Zuck? And you think those who scratched out Black Lives Matter were silencing free speech? What about your memo?

Where to begin? I know. Let’s start with a little thought experiment. What if you’re an employee who takes exception to the CEO’s characterization of “the entire Facebook community?” What if you see the original slogan as offensive? What if you believe that it’s being unjustly used to fuel, not diffuse, racial tensions and anti-law enforcement protests?

What if you have such a radical belief system as to think we’re a nation of laws? What if you believe that Americans, even police, are innocent until proven guilty? What then?

I can certainly see how coming into work and seeing the original slogan on the wall might feel oppressive to some. And I suspect that those same people would feel that the boss’s pointed doctrine mischaracterizes their beliefs, pressures them to conform and constrains their free speech. Never mind that it’s not inclusive. Oh, the hypocrisy.

Last time I checked, the debate over circumstances that led to the Black Lives Matter movement is ongoing, which usually means there are at least two sides, and I don’t mean right and wrong. Whichever side you come down on, I for one would feel pretty uncomfortable seeing any of this stuff in the workplace.

It reminds me of my time as a senior executive of a publicly traded technology company based in Dallas. The CEO was openly Republican and put out at least one companywide email suggesting we get out and support the cause. It wasn’t the side he took that bugged me, but the fact that he took a side.

It doesn’t even matter if he directly stated that employees should follow suit. When a CEO sends out a memo where his political bias is clear, it absolutely intimidates and suppresses the views and speech of employees who lean the other way. 

The same is true in the case of Facebook. When a CEO takes a side on a controversial issue and even implies that it represents all employees, his support for free speech is nothing but a sham.