Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., right, and Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy at Facebook Inc. (Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg)

Facebook Exec Admits One Small Misstep in Kavanaugh Hearing Trip

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc.’s top policy executive responded to employee tension over his support for Brett Kavanaugh, telling staff on Friday that he should have told company management before attending last week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy at Facebook, appeared last week on camera throughout the partisan event at a time when the social-media giant is under scrutiny for alleged bias in the way it distributes political news and other information online.

Facebook Exec Admits One Small Misstep in Kavanaugh Hearing Trip

Some Facebook employees were upset to see their head of policy sitting just behind Kavanaugh, and hundreds of staff complained on the company’s internal messaging system. That prompted Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to address the issue at a weekly all-hands meeting Friday, where Kaplan spoke.

Kaplan told employees that he should have alerted Facebook management before going to the hearings, according to people familiar with the matter. Kaplan did not say that he regretted his attendance, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing an internal event. Kaplan is a close personal friend of Kavanaugh, and has appeared at several other events to support the judge.

According to Facebook’s policies governing workers’ political activity, “employees must keep such activity separate from work and never represent that such activities are being conducted on behalf of Facebook.”

Zuckerberg and Sandberg told their liberal-leaning workforce at the Friday meeting that the company needs to be tolerant of diverse opinions. But the executives also said Facebook employees need to consider how public appearances may reflect on the company.

At the meeting, some Facebook staff shared personal stories of sexual harassment, and were able to ask Kaplan questions, according to the people familiar with the matter. Zuckerberg and Sandberg stressed that any assault survivors should feel comfortable coming forward and being believed.

Kaplan has become a recognizable face following months of political issues for Facebook, where the company has had to defend its stance on privacy and content moderation, and address potential future regulation. So while he appeared at Kavanaugh’s hearing in a personal capacity, some Facebook employees were still concerned about the conclusions the public may draw, especially considering Facebook’s struggles to be a neutral online service.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.