- A Taco Bell employee live-streamed an argument with his boss, who fired him for refusing to take off his Black Lives Matter face mask last Monday, saying he could not bring “politics” into the building under company policy.
- Taco Bell told news outlets last week that it was disappointed to hear about the incident and was considering revising uniform requirements to address recent concerns.
- However, the company has been silent on social media and after a shorter version of the stream viral, #RIPTaco Bell and #TacoBellIsOverParty began trending on Twitter.
- Taco Bell then told media outlets Thursday that it apologized to the former employee and is working to clarify its mask policy so this doesn’t happen again.
The Viral Video
#RIPTacoBell and #TacoBellIsOverParty were trending on Twitter early Thursday after a video went viral of an employee being fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask.
That now-former employee is a man in Ohio by the name of Denzel Skinner, who live-streamed the argument with his manager on Facebook last Monday. Skinner’s live-stream is over 30 minutes long, but a shorter edit that’s just under a minute has been shared across Twitter.
Skinner also later spoke to local news station WKBN, where he explained the lead up to his stream. He told the station that he wore the mask because the surgical ones provided to employees were inadequate in the hot restaurant. He said the store’s air conditioning system recently broke, making it harder to breathe with the surgical masks, so he switched to his more comfortable Black Lives Matter mask.
But when his manager spotted it and told him to take it off, he refused and walked out. He said he was then told that if he walked out of the restaurant, he would lose his job, and he did. That’s when the now-viral video begins.
“You just fired me because I got a Black Lives Matter on,” he says as the edited video begins. “You just told me I had to go home because I have a Black…”
“You told me you weren’t going to take it off,” his boss interjects off camera.
Skinner continues: “I’m not. I’m not. Because I’m standing up for what’s right. I’m not taking it off.”
Skinner explains that someone named Tammy, presumably another higher-ranking colleague, said employees could wear whatever mask they wanted.
“No she did not. She said it had to be plain. You can’t bring politics into the building,” the manager responds.
He replies, “Bro, I’m not bringing politics in, this is what I’m standing for. Like how is this considered politics?”
“How is it not Denzel?” she replies. He then reaffirms that he will not remove his mask and she says, “Ok, well then there’s nothing I can do for you. I’m just doing my job.”
She later tells him, “You don’t get it.”
“You don’t either,” he responds.
When she says that she does, Skinner explains that if she did, then his mask wouldn’t be a problem. “It’s not that it’s a problem with me, Denzel. It’s a company thing.”
She later says, “Would you let somebody wear something that said something about white people on it?”
“Bro, if that’s what they stand for, yes,” he responds.
The shorter video ends with the woman stating: “I’m not against what you stand for either, but I have to do what the company states.”
In the longer version, Skinner dives off and goes on to talk about his disbelief over what happened, asking people to share the video.
Skinner Continues to Speak Out
Skinner talked about the incident a little more on Facebook, saying he had worked for the company for eight years and found the reason for his firing “ridiculous.”
He later shared screenshots of text messages he received about the store’s mask policies, which do not prohibit him from wearing a Black Lives Matter mask.
According to the first screenshot, masks were not required but if worn, they had to be cleaned daily and cover the mouth and nose area. It also included some instructions for removing the masks, not wearing them under your chin, or touching them throughout the day.
The second screenshot said masks now had to be worn at all times and worn correctly, but again had no information about certain designs or messages being prohibited.
It’s also worth noting that Taco Bell’s employee handbook does not appear to make any reference to wearing “political” items.
When speaking to reporters, Skinner has continued to stress that Taco Bell’s policy does not prohibit him from wearing the mask, adding, “If the governor and governments are requiring us to wear masks, we should be able to wear any type of mask that you want.”
“And not only that, I still want everyone to believe that we still need justice for what is happening in this world and people need to be held accountable for whatever mistakes that they make. Black lives are going to always matter. Not just when some people want it to matter. It will always matter.”
Taco Bell Responds
Taco Bell apparently caught wind of the incident and emailed a statement to some local news outlets last week.
“We are disappointed to learn what took place in Youngstown. We are working with our franchisee that operates this location to understand what happened,” the company said.
“We are committed to fighting racial injustice and hosting open forums to give restaurant teams an opportunity to discuss racism in America. Our priority is to be an inclusive brand while keeping team members and customers safe.”
The statement also said that because of supply shortages, employees are allowed to bring their own face coverings, however, it said, “As this is a fluid situation, we’re in the process of considering the need to revise mask and uniform requirements to address recent concerns.”
Still, Skinner said that he would not ask for his job back or return if asked. On Friday, he and about 30 people peacefully marched to the Taco Bell to protest his firing.
Internet Gets Angry
Even though all of this unfolded last week, it seems to have really started picking up attention online late last night and early this morning. That’s because people like YouTuber Elijah Daniel have been sharing the short video on Twitter.
Daniel, as you might know, has been very vocal about protests and efforts that support BLM over the last few weeks. And he helped bring a new wave of attention to the video, along with Denzel’s Facebook posts and screenshots.
Even though Taco Bell made it’s statement to some local media outlets, it’s been silent on social media.
The company’s last post is from June 2 and it links to a letter from Taco Bell CEO Mark King, which condemns racism and says the company is “committed to being part of long term solutions.” But notably, that posts also said the company is muting its channels for the rest of the week to reflect, learn, and listen. It’s been well over a week, however, and all its social media pages remain silent.
It’s been well over a week, however, and all its social media pages remain silent.
So to that message, Daniel said, “nahhhhhh sorry we sad about it but y’all goin too, i have your name tatted on me, been in commercials and y’all unfollowed me for just asking you about it lmfao. it’s also been 2 weeks since your statement and you haven’t done anything? disappointing. #RIPTacoBell.”
Along with Daniel, a ton of people expressed their disappointment with the fast-food chain, with some calling for a boycott.
Others said that the fight for black lives isn’t a political issue and were confused by the firing given Taco Bell’s recent pledge to be a part of the solution.
Some have shared similar experiences they’ve faced, with one operating room nurse saying she left her job after she was told she couldn’t wear a mask that said, “My son deserves to live.”
A lot of people are also comparing this situation to backlash Starbucks faced last week when people learned that its employees were banned from wearing Black Lives Matter attire under its dress code policy. The coffee chain at the time, prohibited employees from wearing attire that advocates for a political, religious, or personal matter. After a flood of outrage, it walked back on that policy and promised to send out BLM t-shirts co-designed by the Starbucks Black Partner Network.
So with this incident at Taco Bell, people are finding a lot of these big company statements in support of Black Lives Matter hollow.
Taco Bell’s Latest Statement
After seeing the backlash this morning, Taco Bell issued another statement to more news outlets, essentially hitting the same notes it did before by saying it was disappointed.
“We take this very seriously; we have been working closely with our franchisee that operates this location to address the issue,” it said.
“Our Chief People Officer and Yum!’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer spoke with Denzel last week to apologize and discuss the situation.”
“Our goal is to ensure our policies are inclusive and keep our team members and customers safe. While our policies at restaurants do not prohibit Team Members from wearing Black Lives Matter masks, we are working to clarify our mask policy so this doesn’t happen again.”
Still, people like Daniel think they should be more vocal. He told Insider that Taco Bell “posted two weeks ago that they were ‘going mute for a week’ to make changes, sort of the opposite of what any brand should be doing, and still have yet to do anything publicly. Whether they’re doing things privately, that’s fine, but this isn’t a time to be private. It’s great that they apologized, but what is being done about his firing? The manager?”
Amazon Warehouse Workers in New York File Petition To Hold Unionization Vote
A similar unionization effort among Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama failed earlier this year amid allegations that the company engaged in illegal union-busting tactics.
Staten Island Unionization Efforts Advance
Workers at a group of Amazon warehouses in Staten Island, New York, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Monday to hold a unionization vote after collecting the necessary number of signatures.
The latest push is not affiliated with a national union but is instead organized by a grassroots worker group called the Amazon Labor Union, which is self-organized and financed via GoFundMe.
The group is run by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse worker who led a walkout at the beginning of the pandemic to protest the lack of protective gear and other conditions. Smalls was later fired the same day.
For months now, Smalls and the other organizers have been forming a committee and collecting signatures from workers to back their push for a collective bargaining group, as well as pay raises, more paid time off, longer breaks, less mandatory overtime, and the ability to cancel shifts in dangerous weather conditions.
On Monday, the leader said he had collected over 2,000 signatures from the four Staten Island facilities, which employ roughly 7,000 people, meeting the NLRB requirement that organizers get support from at least 30% of the workers they wish to represent.
Amazon’s Anti-Union Efforts Continue
The campaign faces an uphill battle because Amazon — the second-largest private employer in the U.S. — has fought hard against unionization efforts for decades and won.
This past spring, Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama held a vote for unionization that ultimately failed by a wide margin.
However, the NLRB is now considering whether to hold another vote after a top agency official found in August that Amazon’s anti-union tactics interfered with the election so much that the results should be scrapped and another one should be held.
Amazon, for its part, is already trying to undermine the new effort in Staten Island. As far back as the walkout led by Smalls at the beginning of the pandemic, workers have filed 10 labor complaints claiming that Amazon has interfered with their organizing efforts.
The NLRB has said that its attorneys have found merit in at least three of those claims and are continuing to look into the others.
Meanwhile, Smalls told NPR last week that the company has ramped up those efforts recently by putting up anti-union signs around the warehouses and installing a barbed wire to limit the organizers’ space.
Representatives for Amazon did not comment on those allegations, but in a statement Monday, a spokesperson attempted to cast doubt on the number of signatures Smalls and his group have collected.
“We’re skeptical that a sufficient number of legitimate employee signatures has been secured to warrant an election,” the spokesperson said. “If there is an election, we want the voice of our employees to be heard and look forward to it.”
The labor board disputed that claim in a statement from the agency’s press secretary on Monday, stressing that the group submitted enough signatures.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Zuckerberg Says He’s “Retooling” Facebook To Attract Younger Adults
The Facebook CEO made the remarks one day before the Senate expanded its questioning of how social media apps, in general, are protecting kids online.
Focus on Younger, Not Older
In an earnings call Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg assured investors that he’s “retooling” the company’s platforms to serve “young adults the North Star, rather than optimizing for the larger number of older people.”
Zuckerberg’s comments came the same day a consortium of 17 major news organizations published multiple articles detailing thousands of internal documents that were handed over to the Securities and Exchanges Commission earlier this year.
Several outlets, including Bloomberg and The Verge, reported that Facebook’s own research shows it is hemorrhaging growth with teen users, as well as stagnating with young adults — something that reportedly shocked investors.
Amid his attempts to control the fallout, Zuckerberg said the company will specifically shift focus to appeal to users between 18 and 29. As part of that, he said the company is planning to ramp up Instagram’s Reels feature to more strongly compete with TikTok.
He also defended Facebook amid the leaks, saying, “Good faith criticism helps us get better. But my view is that what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.”
But the information reaped from the leaked documents is nothing short of damning, touching on everything from human trafficking to the Jan. 6 insurrection, as well as Facebook’s inability to moderate hate speech and terrorism among non-English languages.
Other Social Media Platforms Testify
On Tuesday, a Congressional subcommittee led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (R-Ct.) directly addressed representatives from Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube over child safety concerns on their platforms.
Facebook’s controversies have dominated social media news coverage since mid-September when The Wall Street Journal published six internal slide docs that showed Facebook researchers presenting data on the effect the company’s platforms have on minors’ mental health.
Now, Tuesday’s hearing marks a significant shift to grilling the whole of social media. Notably, this is also the first time Snap and TikTok have testified before Congress.
While each of the companies before senators generally said they support legislation to boost online protections for kids, they didn’t commit to supporting any specific proposals currently on the table.
In fact, at one point, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.) criticized a Snapchat executive after she said she wanted to “talk a bit more” before the company would support updates to his Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act, which was passed in 1998.
“Look, this is just what drives us crazy,” he said “‘We want to talk, we want to talk, we want to talk.’ This bill’s been out there for years and you still don’t have a view on it. Do you support it or not?”
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)
Key Takeaways From the Explosive “Facebook Papers”
Among the most startling revelations, The Washington Post reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally agreed to silence dissident users in Vietnam after the country’s ruling Communist Party threatened to block access to Facebook.
“The Facebook Papers”
A coalition of 17 major news organizations published a series of articles known as “The Facebook Papers” on Monday in what some are now calling Facebook’s biggest crisis ever.
The papers are a collection of thousands of redacted internal documents that were originally turned over to the U.S. Securities and Exchanges Commission by former product manager Francis Haugen earlier this year.
The outlets that published pieces Monday reportedly first obtained the documents at the beginning of October and spent weeks sifting through their contents. Below is a breakdown of many of their findings.
Facebook Is Hemorrhaging Teens
For example, The Verge said the internal documents it reviewed showed that since 2019, teen users on Facebook’s app have fallen by 13%, with the company expecting another staggering falloff of 45% over the next two years. Meanwhile, the company reportedly expects its app usage among 20- to 30-year-olds to decline by 4% in the same timeframe.
Facebook also found that fewer teens are signing up for new accounts. Similarly, the age group is moving away from using Facebook Messenger.
In an internal presentation, Facebook data scientists directly told executives that the “aging up issue is real” and warned that if the app’s average age continues to increase as it’s doing right now, it could disengage younger users “even more.”
“Most young adults perceive Facebook as a place for people in their 40s and 50s,” they explained. “Young adults perceive content as boring, misleading, and negative. They often have to get past irrelevant content to get to what matters.”
The researcher added that users under 18 additionally seem to be migrating from the platform because of concerns related to privacy and its impact on their wellbeing.
Facebook Opted Not To Remove “Like” and “Share” Buttons
In its article, The New York Times cited documents that indicated Facebook wrestled with whether or not it should remove the “like” and “share” buttons.
The original argument behind getting rid of the buttons was multi-faceted. There was a belief that their removal could decrease the anxiety teens feel since social media pressures many to want to achieve a certain number of likes per post. There was also the hope that a decrease in this pressure could lead to teens posting more. Away from that, Facebook additionally needed to tackle growing concerns about the lightning-quick spread of misinformation.
Ultimately, its hypotheses failed. According to the documents reviewed by The Times, hiding the “like” button didn’t alleviate the social anxiety teens feel. It also didn’t lead them to post more.
In fact, it actually led to users engaging with posts and ads less, and as a result, Facebook decided to keep the buttons.
Despite that, in 2019, researchers for Facebook still asserted that the platform’s “core product mechanics” were allowing misinformation and hate to flourish.
“The mechanics of our platform are not neutral,” they said in the internal documents.
Facebook Isn’t Really Regulating International Hate
That’s largely because Facebook does not employ a significant number of moderators who speak the languages of many countries where the platform is popular. As a result, its current moderators are widely unable to understand cultural contexts.
Theoretically, Facebook could solidify an AI-driven solution to catching harmful content spreading among different languages, but it still hasn’t been able to perfect that technology.
“The root problem is that the platform was never built with the intention it would one day mediate the political speech of everyone in the world,” Eliza Campbell, director of the Middle East Institute’s Cyber Program, told the AP. “But for the amount of political importance and resources that Facebook has, moderation is a bafflingly under-resourced project.”
According to The Atlantic, as little as 6% of Arabic-language hate content on Instagram was detected by Facebook’s systems as recently as late last year. Another document detailed by the outlet found that “of material posted in Afghanistan that was classified as hate speech within a 30-day range, only 0.23 percent was taken down automatically by Facebook’s tools.”
According to The Atlantic, “employees blamed company leadership for insufficient investment” in both instances.
Facebook Was Lackluster on Human Trafficking Crackdowns Until Revenue Threats
In another major revelation, The Atlantic reported that these documents appear to confirm that the company only took strong action against human trafficking after Apple threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram from its App Store.
Initially, the outlet said employees participated in a concerted and successful effort to identify and remove sex trafficking-related content; however, the company did not disable or take down associated profiles.
Because of that, the BBC in 2019 later uncovered a broad network of human traffickers operating an active ring on the platform. In response, Facebook took some additional action, but according to the internal documents, “domestic servitude content remained on the platform.”
Later in 2019, Apple finally issued its threat. After reviewing the documents, The Atlantic said that threat alone — and not any new information — is what finally motivated Facebook to “[kick it] into high gear.”
“Was this issue known to Facebook before BBC enquiry and Apple escalation? Yes,” one internal message reportedly reads.
Zuckerberg Personally Made Vietnam Decision
According to The Washington Post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally called a decision last year to have Facebook agree to demands set forth by Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.
The party had previously threatened to disconnect Facebook in the country if it didn’t silence anti-government posts.
“In America, the tech CEO is a champion of free speech, reluctant to remove even malicious and misleading content from the platform,” the article’s authors wrote. “But in Vietnam, upholding the free speech rights of people who question government leaders could have come with a significant cost in a country where the social network earns more than $1 billion in annual revenue.”
“Zuckerberg’s role in the Vietnam decision, which has not been previously reported, exemplifies his relentless determination to ensure Facebook’s dominance, sometimes at the expense of his stated values,” they added.
In the coming days and weeks, there will likely be more questions regarding Zuckerberg’s role in the decision, as well as inquiries into whether the SEC will take action against him directly.
Still, Facebook has already started defending its reasoning for making the decision. It told The Post that the choice to censor was justified “to ensure our services remain available for millions of people who rely on them every day.”
In the U.S., Zuckerberg has repeatedly claimed to champion free speech while testifying before lawmakers.
Among other findings, the Financial Times reported that Facebook employees urged management not to exempt notable figures such as politicians and celebrities from moderation rules.
Outside of these documents, similar to Haugen, another whistleblower submitted an affidavit to the SEC on Friday alleging that Facebook allows hate to go unchecked.
As the documents leaked, Haugen spent Monday testifying before a committee of British Parliament.