First Contact

Yael Eisenstat: There Was No Way I Was Going to Let Facebook Silence My Voice

For a long time, Facebook’s motto was “Move Fast and Break Things.” And although the company has ditched that tagline after years of public scrutiny, one former employee says the company may still be moving too fast.

Yael Eisenstat spent more than a decade as an analyst for the CIA. She also served as a national security advisor to Vice President Biden. But one of the biggest challenges of her career wasn’t during a covert operation… It was as the global head of elections integrity operations at Facebook.

She tells Laurie Segall about some of the difficulties she faced within the company.

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

Even the CIA didn’t make me sign anything like that when I left.

Yael Eisenstat: One of the criticisms about me when I received feedback, was that I don’t answer my emails fast enough. And just to be clear, we’re not talking weeks or months. I always answered within the day.

So I remember sitting down with my boss. I said, “So I don’t answer my emails fast enough?” She’s like, “No. People are starting to get frustrated that you don’t answer these critical questions fast enough.” And I said, “Well, [for] these critical questions, the answer will actually affect the lives of human beings in these countries that we’re making these big decisions about. So when you ask me that question, I am going to talk to everyone who’s worked on this before. I’m going to figure out what all the different options are. I want to make sure I’m coordinating across the different silos at Facebook, so that when I give you my answer, it’s really well thought out. And that might take two or three hours.” Well, that wasn’t fast enough.

So that was a major issue…And it’s important to know — the reason I speak about this is because I would not sign the non-disparagement agreement.

Laurie Segall: I think that’s really important for folks to know…When people leave these tech companies, they are asked to sign papers in order for them to get severance and money and all this kind of stuff. They are not allowed to say anything.

Yael Eisenstat: Right.

Laurie Segall: You refused to sign the papers, right?

Yael Eisenstat: Yeah. And sorry, I realize that sounds like a dramatic shift. But there’s a difference between [a non-disparagement and] an NDA…which is why I’m not going to get into the details of some of the questions. So yes, of course, we all signed NDAs. But NDAs… I’m almost hesitant to go into too much detail because I don’t want Facebook to change this. But NDAs, generally, are about intellectual property, about not stealing company secrets. They’re very much written for engineers, mostly.

On your way out, if they’re going to try to offer you a severance, …they make it seem like they’re giving you the same paperwork [as the NDA]. But if you read it carefully, there’s an extra section, which is the non-disparagement. And the non-disparagement… I have never seen anything like that before. Even the CIA didn’t make me sign anything like that when I left. When I left the CIA, it’s — you can’t talk about anything classified, which is essentially an NDA. They never said you can’t say anything negative about us. The non-disparagement at Facebook was so strong, I would have never been able to talk about even why I was hired, what I was supposed to do. And honestly, they hired me because of my voice, which took me a very serious process to find my voice after leaving a top secret world. There was no way I was gonna let this company silence that.