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Zuckerberg Is Clear: Black Lives Matter

Employees and visitors can leave messages on walls like this on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently made it clear his company takes racial justice seriously. When Facebook employees crossed out the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” replacing it with “All Lives Matter” on the walls of the company’s Menlo Park headquarters, he wrote an internal memo (later leaked) saying that such behavior would not be tolerated, according to a story in the San Jose Mercury News.

In the memo, which was obtained by Gizmodo, a clearly frustrated Zuckerberg said that he and other leaders in the organization had instructed employees to stop the behavior, but it had continued.  Zuckerberg reportedly said he had been disappointed by what he saw as disrespectful conduct, and that after his clear injunction to stop the behavior he now considered the action malicious.  He said the company would investigate the issue.

Facebook has been an outspoken proponent of free speech in the past, and Zuckerberg said the company encouraged employees and visitors to express their thoughts and feelings openly.  “We’ve never had rules around what people can write on our walls,” he wrote in the memo, “but we expect everybody to treat each other with respect. Regardless of the content or location, crossing out something means silencing speech or that one person’s speech is more important than another’s.”

The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 as a protest against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, the African-American community has protested killings by law enforcement officers in multiple communities, as well as broader issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system.

The deleting of the Black Lives Matter slogan at Facebook was particularly sensitive given that it came at a time when prominent Silicon Valley technology companies, including Facebook, have come under fire for their lack of diversity. Despite highly publicized recruiting campaigns, technology giants like Google and Facebook have met with minimal success in altering the racial makeup of their workforces. According to 2015 data, only about 2 percent of Facebook’s U.S. entire workforce is black, and many of those who are are not tech employees.

“Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t. It’s simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve.”

Zuckerberg clearly hopes to change the climate, and he felt this incident had made that more difficult. “It has been a deeply hurtful and tiresome experience for the black community,” he acknowledged, “and really the entire Facebook community as well.”  In an online comment after publication of the Mercury News story, he urged employees to participate in an upcoming Black@townhall meeting to educate themselves on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“‘Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t,” Zuckerberg wrote.  “It’s simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve.”