Facebook is scrambling to contain the fallout after a senior executive’s attendance at Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate last week caused an internal employee uproar.
Joel Kaplan, the company’s policy chief, was visibly seated behind Kavanaugh, Trump’s embattled nominee for the US Supreme Court, as the judge angrily defended himself against allegations of sexual misconduct by multiple women. (He declined to comment on the day when approached by a Business Insider reporter.)
Kaplan and Kavanaugh are friends, having worked together in the Bush administration, and he was there in a personal capacity – but The New York Times reports that his presence, and an initially tone-deaf response from senior leadership, has enraged employees.
In a statement, Facebook spokesperson Bertie Thomson told Business Insider that the company plans to hold a townhall meeting on Friday to address the issue, and acknowledged the company screwed up in its internal response.
“Sexual assault is an issue society has turned a blind eye to for far too long – compounding every victim’s pain,” she said. “Our leadership team recognizes that they’ve made mistakes handling the events of the last week and we’re grateful for all the feedback from our employees.”
According to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that Kaplan hadn’t broken any rules by attending – but that he would not have done so himself.
In one internal message quoted by The Times, a Facebook employee railed against Kaplan’s attendance: “Let’s assume for a minute that our VP of Policy understands how senate hearings work … His seat choice was intentional, knowing full well that journalists would identify every public figure appearing behind Kavanaugh.
“He knew that this would cause outrage internally, but he knew that he couldn’t get fired for it. This was a protest against our culture, and a slap in the face to his fellow employees.”
Kaplan reportedly subsequently apologised in an internal note: “”I want to apologize. I recognize this moment is a deeply painful one – internally and externally … I believe in standing by your friends, especially when times are tough for them.”