After the brutal confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, maybe now we can start to consider some of its more ridiculous tentacles. We’re thinking specifically of the mind-boggling corporate crisis ignited when Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president for global public policy, sat quietly two rows behind Kavanaugh. The men have been friends for two decades, and Kaplan was doing what friends do, showing support.
Hundreds of Facebook employees sounded off about Kaplan in response. One poster on the company’s internal message board described what Kaplan did as “a protest against our culture and a slap in the face to his fellow employees.” Another wrote, “I might feel uncomfortable sharing the workplace with this person now.” Kaplan’s appearance, another poster implied, was a tacit dismissal of sexual assault allegations brought by women.
“Protest against our culture?” “Feel uncomfortable?” Really? The day when a person can’t show up to support a friend is the day that common sense has gone off the rails.
Put aside the controversy surrounding the nomination and confirmation. Kaplan broke no company rules. He sat in support of someone he cares about. Their children grew up together. They worked together in the Bush administration.
And Kaplan, whose Facebook job is to counter perception among some conservatives that the social media giant harbors a liberal bias, is a pretty anonymous face outside the world of the tech and government elite. Kaplan didn’t jeer or cheer during the proceedings. He sat quietly and respectfully.
For those who prefer perpetual political outrage to simple human decency, this was another opportunity to draw someone into the pit of tribalism. Facebook employees have the right to question the direction of their organization. That, like Kaplan’s behavior, is an exercise of basic freedom. But words like “protest against our culture” and the idea that Kaplan is too tainted to work with are insidious suggestions that being Kavanaugh’s friend should make a person a pariah.
At a companywide town hall Friday, Kaplan acknowledged he should have consulted his bosses beforehand. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, in a weak bow to political correctness, told employees that they should embrace diverse views, but that he personally was frustrated by Kaplan’s attendance.
This is a swamp of hypocrisy. Keep in mind that Kaplan is employed, at least in part, because of the relationships he has developed. Would Zuckerberg have denied Kaplan the right to be with a friend during a time of stress? Is support of a friend and his family at a Senate confirmation hearing now a corporate sin? Remedial lessons in embracing political diversity and humanity may be in order.
Facebook has a huge credibility gap inside and outside the company on freedom of speech and association issues that go well beyond this incident. Facebook has talked the talk, but stumbled badly to walk it.
This editorial first appeared in The Dallas Morning News.