The Facebook Effect: What Should You Do If Your Company is Sort of Evil?

It’s definitely Facebook. And Google, more or less. And now sort-of-kind-of Salesforce. The questionable practices of many tech firms are increasingly coming to light. Should you work for a company that many view as evil or ignorant?

There’s nothing fun about walking into the office (or checking in from your home workstation) after reading the latest bit of bad news about your company. It’s demoralizing. In October 2018, we conducted a survey during the height of a cycle of bad press for Google to see if tech pros would leave the company (if they worked there). A good portion (36 percent) said they’d stay. But 53 percent reported they’d either “definitely” leave (21 percent) or would strongly consider it if a good offer came along (32 percent).

In light of that, what should you do when it’s clear the company you work for is just plain bad?

Consider News Objectively

A good example here is Salesforce, which is now being sued by 50 women who claim its service helped human traffickers exploit them via the now-defunct website Backpage, which featured ads for escorts. These women say Salesforce, which counted Backpage as a customer, ignored that the website was up to no good in allowing escort ads to flourish on its platform, which often featured women who were victims of sex trafficking.

The crux of the lawsuit’s argument is that Salesforce tools helped Backpage flourish as a “trafficker and pimp database.”

Is this bad? Definitely. Should it cause Salesforce to examine its ethical stance on who it will (and will not) work with? Probably. Backpage was a bad enough actor that its CEO has agreed to spend five years in prison. But it’s hard to argue Salesforce should vet each of its customers individually, and it’s not even clear if Backpage knowingly worked with those people involved with sex trafficking.

Salesforce played no direct role in Backpage’s operations, day-to-day. It had a bad customer. If you worked there, now would be a good time to move to the next category on our list.

Demand Answers (and Change)

Why didn’t Salesforce know what its customer was doing? Does it have systems in place to scan for certain terms, or to make sure customers aren’t using its services with criminal intent? Can it possibly police that sort of thing internally?

With other companies, the questions are even harsher. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has filed charges against Facebook for its “ethnic affinities” tool, which allowed landlords to discriminate against potential tenants for a variety of reasons (gender, language spoken, race, and location are good examples). HUD Secretary Ben Carson says: “Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live. Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face.”

Facebook, which has been caught doing so many nefarious things we’re almost positive that someone is writing a book about it all, has started a smoke-and-mirrors campaign centered on “privacy.” It’s a soft admission the company was lax with data in the name of profit.

Employees should demand answers for past actions, existing remedies, and how a company will act moving forward. Even if you’re not directly involved in the bad stuff, your job satisfaction is important.

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Companies can change. Uber, once the scourge of the tech world, is now an under-the-radar global company that is about to go public. Lots of employees left when it was accused of institutional sexual harassment and spying on customers, and rightfully so.

Now, it’s a different story. Uber is, well, pretty normal. Working there is no longer a stain on your résumé.

Your decision to stay in position or leave a company comes after you’ve appreciated the bad news objectively, and decided if the answers you were given for your company’s actions (provided you actually got answers) were adequate (and if your company has a working solution to its issues).

No company is perfect. Even those that don’t catch negative headlines can slip up. And there are times you may be privy to things that were never made public, but still irk your sense of professionalism.

But don’t make any rash decisions. Recruiters love to poach when the headlines are sour. And leaving may come across to future employers as a quiet admission of guilt on your part. Just know that if you stay, you may have to stick around until the headlines die down before making your exit, which can take a while. Similarly, you may have to (or want to) stick it out until the bitter end, like so many Theranos employees.