Dear Designer

Dear Designer: How to Explain to Your Kids That You Work at Facebook

If your work helps spread lies and reelect racists, your kids might want some answers

Mike Monteiro
Feb 7, 2020 · 7 min read
Illustration: Eugenia Mello

March 14, 2018, millions of students across the United States, across all grades, walked out of their classrooms for the March For Our Lives. This was specifically in response to the Parkland High School massacre, where 17 kids were murdered, but also generally about the country’s inability to address gun control. (In 2019, 776 teens and 209 children were murdered by guns in the U.S.) Kids were marching to solve a problem adults had failed to address.

On September 20, 2019, three days before the United Nations Climate Summit, roughly six million people, in over 4,500 locations in 150 countries, participated in the Global Climate Strike. This was the third global strike of the school strike for climate movement. It was organized by children and spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, who was 16 at the time.

This morning I woke up to a tweet about grad students at California College of Arts coming up with their own code of ethics for design. The first point in their code is “If you can’t make it better, don’t make it worse.” The last point is “Design with your grandchildren in mind.” Everything in between those two points is just as great. I encourage you to click through and read them all. While grad students can hardly be described as children, many haven’t yet entered the workplace, so I’ll include them in the wave.

What I’m getting at here is pretty simple: One, the kids are alright. Two, the kids are angry. And they have every right to be. Not only are we handing them a broken world, but there’s a very solid chance that we might not be handing them a world at all. And we’ve destroyed the world with the full knowledge that our actions were destroying the world. We did it anyway.

Going back to Thunberg for a second — the amount of hatred being hurled at a 16-year-old by world leaders and captains of industry (including business leaders like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, who not only allow their platforms to be used to harass a 16-year-old but also profit from it) is not only shameful but also incredibly telling: We have no answer for what she’s saying. She’s right. And since we can’t argue with the truth, we belittle the messenger.

Here’s the thing, though. While Thunberg is the most well-known child in the climate crisis movement and is deserving of all the praise she is getting, she is not one of a kind. She is just the most visible part of the wave. She’s the child the media has focused on, and she’s risen to the occasion, for which she should be lauded. But she’s hardly the only one who’s angry at our actions. And she’s hardly the one you should be the most worried about.

ight before last year’s Thanksgiving holidays, a time when Americans traditionally gather with their loved ones and their racist uncles, Facebook gave their employees a gift. It was called the Liam Bot. The purpose of the Liam Bot was to help Facebook employees navigate difficult questions from their family members. Facebook, which we used to think of as a place to share photos of our kids with the grandparents, has become the third rail of family conversations. At least for families of Facebook employees. (If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t have sunk resources into the app, Chad.)

Liam Bot is a chatbot Facebook employees can use to help them answer sticky questions like, “Why does your company allow politicians to lie on the platform?” Which, to be fair, is such a difficult question to answer that Facebook’s CEO doesn’t actually have an answer for it.

But where Liam Bot helps you defend attacks from the adults in the room, it does nothing to help you where your defenses are weakest: your children. Some of you may already have children old enough to ask you questions. Some of you may have toddlers who will one day ask you these questions. And some of you may be thinking of having children someday and are worried that they’ll ask you these questions. They will.

At some point, you will have to explain to your children that you work, or once worked, at Facebook. For example, Chamath Palihapitiya, who was once Facebook’s vice president for user growth, has become a vocal critic of social media: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works.

I agree with him, by the way. And he should know — he helped build those things at Facebook. He’s also said that his children “aren’t allowed to use that shit.” I imagine at some point, Palihapitiya’s children may ask him why he chose to work there if they haven’t already. They may even ask a follow-up, such as why he was okay with building things that addicted their friends.

In the interest of helping Facebook parents answer the questions their children might ask, I’ve come up with some possible topics that might arise in the next few years. Liam Bot developers can feel free to add these to the next update. You’re welcome.

When your children ask why you’re helping to elect a climate crisis denier

Yeah, this one’s gonna hurt. First off, let’s deal with the facts. The climate crisis is real (I’m not gonna even bother including a support link for that because I don’t want to insult either of us). Trump is a climate crisis denier. He’s pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, cut environmental protections multiple times, and has tweeted as much. And according to your own people, you helped get him elected. So you’re not going to be able to answer this question by disputing the facts, because your kid will be right.

If there’s another way to tackle this question, I’m not sure what it is. So let me ask you: Why are you helping to elect a climate crisis denier? Your kids are gonna need a planet, and all their stuff is on this one. All those hopes and dreams about your kid learning how to ride a bike, graduating, getting married, giving you grandchildren to spoil, etc. — they all have one thing in common. They all happen on this planet. And yet you sell your labor to a company that caters to a psychopath who’s doing everything possible to destroy that planet.

Perhaps you don’t even like working at Facebook, and you’re doing it for the money, to ensure your kid has a good future. Sure, who doesn’t want that for their kid? But a fat college fund is useless when the planet has been destroyed by natural disasters and civil wars for resources.

There must be times when this keeps you up at night.

When your children ask why you’re helping to elect a racist, sexist, misogynistic xenophobe

I mean, this isn’t so different from the point above, and we certainly don’t need to go over the facts, do we? I’m not going to spend my limited word count convincing you the man is who he shows you to be on a daily basis. Instead, let’s do a little exercise. The next time you’re at a kid’s birthday party or at a playground or anywhere else kids congregate, take a look at all the kids. Make a tally of how many of those kids President Donald Trump, the man you’re actively using your labor to reelect, believes don’t belong on that playground or at that birthday party.

Then take a look at your own kid. See how happy your kid is to be playing with those kids? Someday your kid is gonna ask why you work at a company that’s helping to elect someone who doesn’t want their friends around. I surely hope you have an answer better than “Well, we’re protecting free speech.” Especially if your kid comes back with, “Well, what about Manny’s free speech?” Devastating.

I mean, that Cybertruck you bought to own all the other parents at soccer practice isn’t gonna be so exciting with all those empty seats.

When your children ask why it’s okay to lie

Of all the important lessons a parent has to teach a child, honesty might be the most important. We’ll all make mistakes in life; that’s part of being human. We teach our children that you own your mistakes, you admit to what you did, and you always tell the truth. It’s one of the cornerstones of being a decent person.

At some point, your child will test that boundary. It’s their job to test boundaries. They’ll tell some small fib. It’ll be obvious that they’re telling a fib. Their goal isn’t to get away with it, it’s to see how you react. And you will do your job, as a good parent, and say something like, “We don’t lie in this house.”

And then your kid will say, “But you let people lie at work. Why is that okay?”

Your kid will be right. You do let people lie at work. Mark Zuckerberg has stated over and over that he’s okay with publishing political lies. He’s even going on tour about it, he’s so excited.

You may even tell your kid, “Well, Daddy doesn’t work on the team that does that.” Congratulations, you’ve just taught your child about money laundering.

ook, I know how much all of you love your kids or will love your future kids. And I get that you want to ensure they have a good future. Every parent wants that. But when you’re working at a place that’s designed to destroy the future, doing that company’s bidding cannot, by definition, ensure the future. Love your kids. Love them enough to stand up to those who’d take their future away.

If you made it this far down the article you’re probably pissed off at me. That’s okay. But at least admit that you’re pissed off at me because I’m reminding you of things you don’t want to be reminded of. I understand that I may not have the right to remind you of those things. But your children do. And someday they will.

Ensure their future. For real.

Modus

Helping designers thrive.

Mike Monteiro

Written by

English is my second language. You were my first.

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

Mike Monteiro

Written by

English is my second language. You were my first.

Modus

Helping designers thrive. A Medium publication about UX/UI design.

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