“When Has There Ever Been a Moment of Calm at Facebook?”: The Great Employee Exodus That Wasn’t

“When Has There Ever Been a Moment of Calm at Facebook?”: The Great Employee Exodus That Wasn’t


If you visited almost any news site in late September, you would have seen a profusion of headlines detailing the Facebook Files, which showcased thousands of internal company documents illustrating in great detail how Facebook chooses profits over tackling issues such as hate speech and teen depression. As the weeks went on, if you were to turn on almost any cable news channel, you would see hundreds of manicured talking heads discussing what this latest scandal meant for the biggest social platform on earth. All anyone could talk about was the gargantuan leak, the building response by Congress, and what the potential retribution would be. People I spoke to in the tech and media community wondered if this was (finally) the death knell for Facebook—I know, I know, we’re supposed to call it “Meta” now, but really, who is calling it Meta now?—not that Facebook, I mean Meta, would be shut down as a result of the revelations, but that it would definitely see an exodus of employees ashamed to work for such an evil company; that there would be a massive departure of advertisers that would move to more ethical pastures; and that—possibly—this was such a big deal that even Sheryl Sandberg might leave.

Yet, according to a high-level employee and people close to the company, over the past two months there has been little to no discussion about the latest scandal—not on Facebook’s internal messaging platform, Workplace, on internal company conference calls, or in some of the offices that are open. It has been, as the high-level employee put it, mostly business as usual. The only real gossipy chatter, according to the high-level employee, was people wondering if they’d worked with Frances Haugen after she went public as the Facebook whistleblower who had leaked the documents to The Wall Street Journal, and then other outlets. “On the one hand, it was kind of odd,” the employee told me. “You’d go into a meeting, or join a conference call, and no one was really discussing it.” But he added: “On the other hand, working at Facebook, there are a series of scandals that you become inured to them—they just kind of bleed together, and if you get caught up in each one, you’d never get anything done.”

Outside the company, the scandal was huge; internally, employees definitely felt it, but it didn’t have nearly the same gravitas that it did to those who don’t work there. Now, as weeks have gone by, all of the speculation about an employee exodus and advertiser migration has not really borne out—or, maybe, not yet. Sure, there have been employees who have left the company. And while Insider reported last week that it has become somewhat easier for other companies to recruit engineers away from Facebook (a task that was almost impossible in the past), there still has not been the mass exodus of engineering talent that some had envisioned happening as a result of the Facebook Files. “It doesn’t affect recruiting in a very appreciable way,” the high-level employee explained—at least not yet. The only thing that is changing at Facebook, the employee said, is its offering of slightly increased financial packages to people who are thinking about leaving, something it did not do as aggressively previously.

In reality, as with all things tech, what entices people to stay at a company like Facebook isn’t morals, but money and reach. And from a financial perspective, the money is mind-bending. According to the site Levels.fyi, which monitors salaries, engineers at Facebook can make as much as $855k a year, including stock options and bonuses. That doesn’t include the added benefits, which, beyond things like insurance, include an on-site barber and bike repair shop, free meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) five days a week, a $3,000 “wellness reimbursement” as of next year, a video game room, valet parking, dry cleaning and on-site laundry, phone bill coverage, and on and on. Oh, and according to Quora users, there can also be a signing bonus of as much as $100,000 for engineers at the company. And that’s just the average employee. There are stories of rock star high-level engineers around Silicon Valley being paid as much as $100 million to work for tech companies. But employees at Facebook have told me it’s not just the money that entices people to stay there.

A former Facebook product manager who left the company before the Facebook documents scandal broke told me that when he was at the company amid other external-facing turmoil, the engineers and designers he worked with became impervious to the constant muckraking about the company, tending to focus almost exclusively on the impact they had and the fact that they were building something that touched so many people. “You’ve gotta understand, you’re working at a place where almost 3 billion people, nearly half the planet, are seeing something, and interacting with something, that you worked on,” the former employee said. “That’s a hell of a lot more impactful than just another negative story about Facebook in The New York Times.” The product manager didn’t choose to leave the company because of the slew of scandals that happened while he worked at Facebook, but rather for the same reason other engineers and designers finally leave: either for more money elsewhere or just a change of scenery at a different company.

But this isn’t to say that the Facebook Files and Haugen’s incredibly damning testimony haven’t affected company morale. One area where employees are struggling is on the business side. According to the high-level employee, people who work inside Facebook with other Facebook employees mostly only see the positive sides and impact of their work, but the employees who interface with ad buyers, major corporations, and influential users, including celebrities and politicians, are having a more difficult time. “It doesn’t feel great to be the face of Facebook to the top 100 brands, or to the offices of some of the politicians and celebrities on the platform,” the employee said.

Then, of course, there’s the Sheryl Sandberg of it all. In the past, when there was an uproar about something Facebook had done, whether it was privacy-related or a problem with a product deployment, Sandberg had been out there on the front lines, leading the public relations effort to try and sway the viewpoint of Facebook. Yet with the Facebook Files, she was almost nonexistent. Externally, many people have speculated that this could mean she has one foot out the door, but from numerous people I’ve spoken with who work at Facebook, advise the company, or know Sandberg personally, there is no immediate sign of her leaving Facebook or her role as chief operating officer. If anything, one person close to the company theorized, Sandberg would only depart Facebook if there were a lull of scandalous news, leaving the company on a high note at a time of calm. “But let’s be honest, if that is the case, it’s going to be a long time for that to happen,” the person said. “When has there ever been a moment of calm at Facebook?”

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If you visited almost any news site in late September, you would have seen a profusion of headlines detailing the Facebook Files, which showcased thousands of internal company documents illustrating in great detail how Facebook chooses profits over tackling issues such as hate speech and teen depression. As the weeks went on, if you were…

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