By Andrew Tan
Editor’s note: This story contains references to students with thoughts of suicide and self-harm that may be troubling to some readers.
Along the base of Facebook’s famed “Like” sign at 1 Hacker Way on Thursday afternoon, demonstrators placed flower bouquets and arranged wreaths with messages attached expressing condolences for the family of former employee Qin Chen, who took his own life in an apparent suicide by jumping off the fourth story of a Facebook campus building on Sept 19.
Prompted by articles and videos alleging workplace bullying as a contributing factor to Chen’s death, more than 100 people from across the Bay Area gathered near the intersection of Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway to commemorate Chen’s life and to protest the tech giant’s lack of transparency in the wake of his death.
“The tech giant trying to cover up the truth of this tragic story and silence critics,” organizers of the Justice for Qin event told The Daily in an email.
Five Facebook representatives were on site to answer questions from the media and listen to the concerns of those in attendance.
“We’re all impacted as a Facebook family,” said Facebook Director of Corporate Communication Pamela Austin said. “This is tragic news. We are all rallying to understand and to grow from this as best we can.”
At the protest, six people stood in front of the large crowd, four of them holding up signs that read “We Deserve the Truth.” A fifth brandished a board with text that read “Treat your employees right so they won’t use your internet to look for new jobs” next to a picture of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO.
The sixth demonstrator led the crowd of predominantly Chinese protesters in several chants including “Justice for Qin,” “Anti-toxic working place,” “Give me the truth, Zuckerberg” and “Chinese lives matter.”
The protest organizers had claimed in a flyer advertising the event that the company “has kept silent in an unusual way.” They describe his apparent suicide as prompted by “horrible workplace toxicity” and workplace bullying, and request that Facebook launch an investigation into Chen’s death.
Austin told The Daily that Facebook is working “very closely with a variety of experts in both suicide prevention and mental health” in order to move forward in a “compassionate, humane [and] open” way. She emphasized that suicide comes about through a combination of factors, and while there may be a trigger point, bullying — if it did occur — could not have been the sole cause of his death.
Though the protesters avoided any major confrontation with the Facebook representatives on site, tensions still ran high as vigil-goers sought to have their voices heard.
“I really think they should care more about their own employees,” said Marylyn Chang, an independent attendee at the event. “They have all their facilities, their meetings and their ways. I think they are capable to make it happen. They should have some place to let their employees air out their stress.”
Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.