Tech: A Silicon Valley techie reveals why he sent a brutal rejection to a Facebook recruiter - Labarai Ingantattu


Tech: A Silicon Valley techie reveals why he sent a brutal rejection to a Facebook recruiter

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Former Medium engineer Ben Werdmuller explained why he rejected a preliminary job approach from Facebook, saying that techies are obliged to make ethical decisions about where they work. Facebook and other Silicon Valley firms, he said, are not shouldering their social responsibilities.

  • Facebook may be losing out on talent thanks to the cumulative impact of its various data and fake news scandals.
  • Ben Werdmuller, a Bay Area-based product manager, turned down a Facebook recruiter because of the Cambridge Analytica data breach.
  • He said people who work at Facebook are also disappointed in the company but feel they can do good inside the organisation.
  • Werdmuller said there was an "endemic problem" with Silicon Valley not taking its social responsibilities seriously.

Facebook has had a rough 2018. There was the long, ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal, which wiped $60 billion off its stock price and evolved into other data scandals. Then the firm had to accept that it had a key role in spreading fake news during the 2016 election. Then Instagram's founders quit. Then WhatsApp's cofounder Brian Acton dunked on the company in an explosive tell-all with Forbes. Now the company has confessed to what looks like the biggest hack in its history.

Apart from denting the stock price, the cumulative effect of all these mishaps might be impacting Facebook's ability to hire the best talent.

Business Insider spoke to Ben Werdmuller, an ethically minded product developer who recently gave a Facebook recruiter short shrift. He turned down a potential interview on the basis of the firm's Cambridge Analytica data breach, which enabled the consultancy to weaponize Facebook data during the 2016 US presidential election.

Werdmuller tweeted this his rejection letter last week:

Turning down a potential job at Facebook is no small thing. The company's median pay in 2017 was almost a quarter of a million dollars, and prospective employees fight for jobs.

Werdmuller was previously an engineer at Medium, an investor at Matter VC, and now works on Unlock, a new way for creators to make money from their content. He lives in Oakland, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I know quite a few people who are very critical of Facebook," Werdmuller said. "I actually think it's not fair to be solely critical of Facebook. There's a much more endemic problem in the tech industry, and in Silicon Valley in particular, which is... not being respectful.

"As tech becomes more and more ingrained in society, we need it to be more respectful of context. Facebook is the punching bag because it's the largest."

As Werdmuller sees it, Facebook is incapable of shouldering its social responsibility. As well as the 2016 election, he points to the impact of Facebook's insistence on users using their real names on the drag queen community, which "shut those people from that whole slice of discourse."

"If they are not able to put their social responsibility above their responsibility to shareholders, then it's very difficult to endorse working for them," he said. "It's actually much easier to endorse finding ways to disrupt them."

He added: "It would be wrong not to bring politics into technology, because technology is so ingrained in society. You have to make ethical decisions... you can't look at tech in a vacuum."

There are signs that Facebook staff are also questioning their future at the company. According to a New York Times article from April, unhappy engineers requested transfers from Facebook's main product to its cooler acquisitions, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Werdmuller accepts that he's in a privileged position to be able to turn down a potentially high-paying job.

He added: "I am friends with Facebookers as well as people who work at Google and Twitter and so on. And I think they agree with me. It's not that they're opposed to what I'm saying. There are lots of people who feel they can do good inside these organisations... They've made different decisions, which I respect."

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