This holiday season, let’s all take a moment and remember the poor, poor Facebook employees. It’s not easy, after all, working for a company that’s widely blamed for everything from poisoning political discourse to enabling the spread of hate speech that fanned the flames of genocide.
None of these things make for very nice small talk, especially around the holidays when pesky relatives start to ask uncomfortable questions.
But now, Facebook employees have a new tool at their disposal: a messaging bot filled with PR talking points to help them figure out how to talk about the many scandals surrounding the company.
The new chatbot, called Liam, was recently made available to employees, according to a new report in The New York Times.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed Liam’s existence, which the company began testing internally earlier this year. “Our employees regularly ask for information to use with friends and family on topics that have been in the news — especially around the holidays,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We put this into a chat bot, which we began testing this spring”
It’s not clear exactly where the name “Liam” comes from, but a spokesperson noted that Liam’s creators are based in the UK, where it’s a popular name. In any case, Liam is meant to give employees an easy way to find out answers to difficult questions that might come up about the company in everyday conversations. Here’s how Liam might handle a question about Facebook’s hate speech policy, according to The Times.
the chatbot … would instruct the employee to answer with these points:
-Facebook consults with experts on the matter.
-It has hired more moderators to police its content.
-It is working on A.I. to spot hate speech.
-Regulation is important for addressing the issue.
It would also suggest citing statistics from a Facebook report about how the company enforces its standards.
The New York Times notes that this isn’t the first time the social network has provided PR-approved talking points to its employees ahead of the holidays. But the addition of Liam, rather than the standard article links or other PR materials the company has provided in the past, underscores just how prevalent these kinds of questions now are for Facebook workers.
While Facebook was once regarded as one of the most sought after tech employers, the years of scandals and calls to #DeleteFacebook have damaged the company’s image. Public trust int he company is low, and the company’s many missteps have dominated headlines.
The company has reportedly struggled with recruiting in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has contributed to declining morale among current rank and file employees. Last month, a few hundred employees took the unprecedented step of signing an open letter, urging the company to rethink its political advertising policy. A number of formerly high-ranking Facebook employees have also publicly slammed the company, including cofounder Chris Hughes.
But it’s not all about privacy scandals and the erosion of democracy. Liam is also equipped to handle basic tech support questions Facebook employees might unwittingly find themselves on the receiving end of during a holiday gathering, such as how to reset a forgotten password.
On that point, at least, I’m sure we can all relate.