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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech industry workers create powerful tools that amplify users' voices. Now they're getting vocal about how those tools are used — and employers are wondering whether there's such a thing as too much voice.

Why it matters: Tech workers are often echoing concerns that have already stirred in the rest of society — or are about to do so.

  • Encouraging workers to speak up can help management avoid missteps and identify problems early enough to fix them.
  • At the same time, some decisions company leaders make are just going to be unpopular, and companies want to avoid giving employees a veto over management's decisions.

Driving the news:

  • Facebook is the latest big company to be faced with the issue, with more than 250 employees signing a letter criticizing the decision to allow politicians to lie in paid ads without consequence.
  • Google workers are famous for speaking up (and even walking out) over a range of issues, from sexual harassment to government work. Most recently, workers have questioned Google's hiring of a former official in the Trump Administration's Homeland Security department.
  • Workers at Microsoft have also spoken up over its work with the U.S. military and immigration authorities. The company has been willing to take clear positions notwithstanding, vigorously defending its work with the U.S. government.
  • Employees of Blizzard protested after the company penalized a game tournament winner for lending support to Hong Kong protesters.

Yes, but: Workers aren't speaking out everywhere. Apple and Amazon are known for expecting dissent to remain private.

The big picture: Tech companies recruit talented, idiosyncratic engineers, designers, and product managers by presenting them with inspiring missions and promising them a chance to "change the world."

  • It shouldn't surprise anyone that some of these workers will challenge policies they find unethical.
  • These conflicts have emerged during an unprecedented market boom. In a downturn, companies are more likely to make hard-knuckled decisions — and workers worried about their jobs might be less daring about challenging those choices.

What they're saying:

  • More than 250 Facebook workers, in a letter:
"Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing. Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office, or those running for office, are a threat to what FB stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn't protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy."
  • Facebook, in a statement:
"Facebook's culture is built on openness so we appreciate our employees voicing their thoughts on this important topic. We remain committed to not censoring political speech, and will continue exploring additional steps we can take to bring increased transparency to political ads."

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 9 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 10 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.