Former Facebook employee’s new book exposes Big Tech’s dirty secrets

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Shortly after Mark Luckie left his job as a manager at Facebook in 2018, he revealed in a blog post an internal memo he sent to colleagues before he left. The topic? How Facebook fails its Black employees. Now, nearly two years later, he’s written a lightly fictionalized version of how Big Tech companies operate and the burden they put on some of their employees.

The novel, Valley Girls, tells the story through the lens of four main characters working in the communications department of tech firm, Elemynt, which Luckie said has elements of companies like Google, Uber, and Facebook. The story starts with optimism and gets progressively worse as the characters—all women—are put in increasingly compromising positions at work. Luckie said he wrote the book as fiction partly to protect his sources, many of whom had signed nondisclosure agreements with their employers.

“This is very much a part of tech people don’t see or hear about,” Luckie said in an interview. “When scandals arrive, they think of CEOs and executives. They rarely think about the people crafting the message around it.”

Luckie has worked for companies including Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, in various roles that aid with influencer and media partnerships. During his time at the tech companies he said he watched young ambitious professionals, many of whom were women, join the communication teams only to face situations in which they might have to “hide” company information or “negotiate” their way out of it even if they ultimately disagreed with the company.

With two journalism degrees and professional experience at major media companies, Luckie wanted to write again following his exit from the tech industry. He still has lingering worries about how Big Tech companies operate and the very real-world consequences, like live-streamed shootings on their services and hate groups using their tools for coordinated attacks.

Luckie recognized his privilege as a man who now had the freedom to stand up for others, and that’s ultimately what led him to write his new book. “The thing I kept thinking about is if I have to endure a little trauma to relieve others of theirs, then I’m all for it,” he said.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Fortune: How many of the stories in this book are true?

Luckie: Everything in this book is either a mashup or direct reference to something that has happened in real life in tech companies, though not one in particular. Readers who are very familiar with tech are going to recognize where these references come from.

I talked to about 40 women. Some were small conversations, some were large. But it was to understand this world from a female perspective, everything from sexual harassment to what it’s like to have feminine products in the bathroom. The biggest question I asked them is, how accurate is this as a representation of what you go through?

The name you chose for the book has already received backlash. Why did you choose Valley Girls as the title?

“Valley Girls” is a reference to the valley girls of the ’80s who were these supposedly dumb, ditzy blondes who hung at the mall. Even before I wrote a word of the book, I was thinking about how the term references how women in tech are treated as not as intelligent as men.

Having a book about women that references “girls” in the title would be controversial, but it encapsulates the sense of the book, which is the challenges they face. I had to prepare myself mentally for the kind of blowback it would receive. But what I came to realize is the title is the least controversial part of the book.

Why did you choose to focus on the experience of women?

What’s most important is this book isn’t exclusively about women’s experiences. This is the lens through which the book is presented. It’s more about how different types of women and men and people from various races and sexual orientations and abilities intersect and the friction that that causes.

The reason why I wrote the memo [upon my departure from Facebook] is because every week people reached out saying, “I had this problem with managers and the work I do.” Most of those conversations were with women. So I incorporated those experiences in this. I know this book would’ve had another dimension if it was a book about women by a woman. But I hope this is a springboard for people of all genders to tell their stories.

What did you learn while writing this book?

The biggest lesson I learned is that I was not alone in the experiences I went through, and that there are many shared stories across various demographics. It was also understanding just how bad tech companies are from the inside. When you put all this info together in 150,000 words, the ethics are quite questionable from the employee level to the CEO level.

I’ve been in a lot of rooms and have been privy to conversations about user suppression, interactions with government officials, hiding company secrets, manipulation of employees, and internal discussions. I’ve kept secrets even from family and friends about what I witnessed. And I decided I’m more obligated to making society less dysfunctional than propping up tech companies.

What might people be most surprised to hear?

People will be surprised to hear a lot. The many amenities that tech employees are afforded from childcare to spa treatments to in-flight manicures. The vending machines with free tech—keyboards, mice, headphones, things that cost hundreds of dollars are there for the taking.

As the book goes on those amenities are used to get people to work as much as possible and quell employee protest. Because if a company is giving you everything you need, if there’s a wine bar around the corner and an arcade, how bad could it really be? But there’s everything from discussions about user verification to the effects of the exploitation of celebrity culture to sexual harassment and assault.

What do you hope this book does for people who read it?

This is about sharing the torch of knowledge, putting it into the hands of people, and letting them do what they want, whether it’s to stay on the platform or not. For government and civil organizations, it’s a guide to help them hold tech companies accountable. It’s a guide for reporters and journalists to better understand the inner workings of the companies.

This is going to be useful for people who are not familiar with tech to understand what’s going on inside these companies. That’s who I really wrote it for—the average individual.

What is the fix for these problems you explore at Big Tech companies?

The fix is when tech companies’ bottom line is affected by regulation or users leaving the platform. That’s when the change is really going to happen. Right now, they have no incentive to change.

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