The gloves are off and Facebook's current and former executives are now engaged in an open war of words.
Facebook executive David Marcus posted a lengthy blog post on Wednesday attacking his former colleague Brian Acton, calling him a "whole new standard of low-class" and faulting him for actively working to slow down certain business objectives while he was the company.
The bizzare public squabble comes on the heels of an explosive interview by Acton, the cofounder of WhatsApp, who left Facebook a year ago. In the interview with Forbes, Acton broke with convention and spoke candidly about the disagreements he had with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg before his departure.
Acton's interview also came a day after the surprise resignation of Instagram's cofounders, whose unusual "goodbye note" hinted at growing disagrements and tension with Zuckerberg. The series of executive departures over the past years have raised questions about Facebook's ability to retain talent and about the future of some of its popular products like WhatsApp and Instagram.
Marcus, who is one of Facebook's most powerful executives and currently heads up the company's blockchain efforts, insisted that no one at Facebook had asked him to write the post. Reading statements in Acton's Forbes interview which differered "greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand," Marcus said that he felt compelled to write about the "actual facts."
It's worth noting that Marcus was for years the head of Facebook Messenger, the company's home-built messaging product that in some way competes with WhatsApp, a messaging app that Facebook acquired in 2014 for a whopping $19 billion.
"Call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It's actually a whole new standard of low-class," Marcus wrote about Acton.
"Don't be passive agressive about it"
Marcus sought to portray Acton and the WhatsApp group as a persnickety and ungrateful team within Facebook that received special treatment on everything from special office layouts to private conference rooms that were off-limits to other nearby Facebook staffers.
Zuclerberg "personally shields founders from what typically frustrates them in larger companies, giving them unprecedented autonomy," Marcus said, even when doing so comes at a cost to the company.
More importanty, he appeared to accuse Acton of deliberately slow-walking plans to monetize the WhatsApp messaging app.
"It became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it," Marcus wrote.
"In my view, if you're passionate about a certain path — in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it — and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don't be passive-aggressive about it," he continued.
The other side of the story
[Disclaimer: no one at Facebook asked me to post this. I just had to do it. And these are my personal views exclusively.]
Today Forbes published an interview of Brian Acton that contained statements, and recollection of events that differ greatly from the reality I witnessed first-hand. As a result, I felt compelled to write about the actual facts.
Second — on encryption. The global roll-out of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition, and with Mark's full support. Yes, Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption, but from that point on, it was never questioned. I witnessed Mark defending it a number of internal meetings where there was pushback — never for advertising or data collection reasons but for concerns about safety — and even in Board Meetings. Mark's view was that WhatsApp was a private messaging app, and encryption helped ensure that people's messages were truly private.
Third — on the business model. I was present in a lot of these meetings. Again, Mark protected WhatsApp for a very long period of time. And you have to put this in the context of a large organization with businesses knocking on our door to have the ability to engage and communicate with their customers on WhatsApp the same way they were doing it on Messenger. During this time, it became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it. In my view, if you're passionate about a certain path — in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it — and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don't be passive-aggressive about it. And by the way the paid messaging that WhatsApp is rolling out now sounds pretty similar to metered messaging from my point of view...
Lastly — call me old fashioned. But I find attacking the people and company that made you a billionaire, and went to an unprecedented extent to shield and accommodate you for years, low-class. It's actually a whole new standard of low-class.