Facebook has a queer people of color problem. That’s according to Mark Luckie, the former manager of global influencers at Facebook, who exposed Facebook’s problems with its Black employees and users in a note (on Facebook) about his experience as an employee of the social network.
In the note, titled “Facebook is failing its black employees and its black users,” Luckie accuses the company of ignoring Black Facebook users, who make up a disproportionate amount of its user base, and says that the problem stems from a lack of Black representation among their employees.
LGBTQ people do have a troubled history with the platform, which angered many with its insistent stance on a “real name” policy that forces some trans people to use the name on their legal identification. In an interview with INTO, Luckie talks about the company’s intersectionality problem and why its lack of queer employees of color means, sadly, that queer people of color are hardly ever acknowledged.
A lot of your letter is about being Black at Facebook, can you talk a little bit about how being queer complicates your experiences of Blackness at Facebook?
Well, I didn’t see people who came from the same culture as me. Certainly there were gays, Facebook has one of the largest presences at San Francisco Pride, but I’m looking around like, “Where are the gay people of color? I know you guys are here somewhere!” So what I ended up doing is just following a lot more gay Black people on Twitter because I felt like I was missing that so much at Facebook but also in my neighborhood. I’d have to go to Oakland if I wanted to see Black gays or be exposed to Black gay culture.
Part of that, you know, the feedback I got privately [is] that this wasn’t meant for me. That this was not my culture. The intersectionality at Facebook was not there. In terms of queer women, the women’s group focused on … I want to say on heterosexual norms, like you know, husbands and kids, without consideration for the queer spectrum or experience. We didn’t have an LGBTQ group of color. We were sort of just integrated into this larger [email protected] spectrum. And if you look at the Pride [parade] participation in SF, you’d have to “Where’s Waldo” the people of color who aren’t white or Asian.
The intersectionality at Facebook was not there.
That culture of not representing QPOC affects the front-facing side and how LGBTQ people experience the platform. Facebook has a history of problems with the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people, about their names and IDs policy. While you were there, did you hear any discussions about how trans people can be better served by the Facebook platform? Or was it not a priority?
Facebook recognized that the trans naming problem, their real name policy was an issue, but one that they had taken a hard stance on, that they were not going to change it. Meanwhile, because I work with communities of color from different backgrounds, different religious backgrounds, I would get the inbound calls like, “Hey, they’re making me use my real name,” … I can’t tell you what the resolution for that was, but it happened quite frequently.
What was it like for you psychologically to know that you had to be the conduit between marginalized communities unhappy with Facebook and your employer who had taken a hard stance not to support them?
That was the hardest part of my job, telling queer and communities of color and the intersections thereof that Facebook has your back, here’s what you can do, basically advocating on behalf of Facebook to these people knowing full well that Facebook did not have their back in its policies, in its outreach, especially queer people of color. Everything was super broad. A lot of queer people of color who are super famous did not get the love and it was really heartbreaking to have to know that their needs were going unmet and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.
So, would you say that QPOC Facebook users were treated as second class in comparison to cis white gay men?
Not even second class, not even thought of at all! They weren’t even considered.
If QPOC are not being considered, that means that to Facebook, the queer community is basically white and cis, you know? Would you say that cis gay men were prioritized at Facebook?
Yeah, totally. In terms of partners, when queer people of color were talked about, it was either in the Black or Latino bucket or the gay, not trans or nonbinary, bucket. And sort of like, picked a box. You had a lot of people internally who advocated externally for queer causes but because the number of QPOC was low, you didn’t have a lot of people who could advocate in the same way and you didn’t have people in roles where they could advocate.
Not even second class, not even thought of at all! They weren’t even considered.
Would you say that the genesis of that is white gay men having more access to capital?
No, white gay men were looking out for white gay men. You look out for your community. I’m looking out for people who look like me. I saw the absence of that kind of outreach from white gay men. It’s not that they had more capital, it’s that QPOC have a lack of advocates. You have to be very diligent and thoughtful to go outside of yourself to advocate for communities that don’t look like you. If everyone at Facebook is white and Asian and the queer people are white and Asian, where do black and brown queer people of color fall in the equation?
One thing that you stress in your letter, is that Facebook is a very data-driven company. Do they have any data about queer people of color and trans people specifically or have they not dove into intersections?
So, Facebook has the data. All the data that people submit on the platform, Facebook has access to. So if you designate you’re a man interested in men, Facebook knows all the men interested in men and women interested in women across the platform.
Facebook has detection technology that can identify what your race is, just by the things you talk about, the people you follow, just like on Netflix when you watch gay movies and you start to see more gay movies. I can’t think of a time where that intersection was used or acknowledged in any meaningful way. It was always larger buckets: this is what queer people think or this is what women think.
White gay men were looking out for white gay men.
What would you say are the ramifications of this problem for the everyday QPOC Facebook user?
The biggest thing is having your content taken down. It happens so often. You could be the average person or a big name: if you post about queer content, if someone reports it, then you know, you’re going to get in a queue and have your account reviewed, the post reviewed, the post taken down, possibly have your account suspended.
Facebook and Instagram are where a lot of queer people of color go to convene. It’s where you find your tribe, find your community and so when these sorts of things happen, or when something that they know … it’s how you communicate. And these communities are going to start dispersing, they’re going to other platforms, or using Facebook and Instagram less, much less. A lot of people don’t know that Facebook owns Instagram, so yeah.
The place you have to connect with other people, you don’t have a trusting relationship in that platform.
Obviously, among QPOC and white gay men there are a different set of priorities. When you were in [email protected] events or queer FB spaces, what were the biggest issues you felt they were talking about in terms of queerness on the platform?
Facebook has so many teams, so it ranges. I think the biggest, if I can say overarching thing, was letting people know that gay people work at Facebook and that they support their communities.
So certain causes, like Gays In Tech, GLAAD and Trevor Project, got a lot of attention. I would say it was less about advocating on behalf of queer users and more queer causes. And that’s a line I deleted out of the post, is that Facebook has to stop just caring about black causes and care about black lives.
When you start to talk about people in underrepresented communities, it’s always about the cause — we gave money, we volunteered — but it’s never about what we did for queer people of color.
INTO has reached out to Facebook for comment and will update if we hear back.