A fired Facebook employee wrote a scathing memo detailing the company’s failures to stop political manipulation around the world
(Business Insider) – A recently fired Facebook employee wrote a memo on her last day at the company accusing the tech giant of routinely ignoring or otherwise not prioritizing fake accounts’ efforts to manipulate elections and political climates around the world, according to a Monday BuzzFeed report.
The 6,600-word memo was written by Sophie Zhang, a data scientist whose job at the company was to identify fake accounts attempting to manipulate political outcomes. The mid-level employee said she was tasked with exercising her own judgment without managerial support while choosing which crucial matters to prioritize that pertained to Iraq, Indonesia, Italy, India, El Salvador, and countless more nations.
Zhang described a monumental workload that she said resulted in many such fake networks slipping through the cracks in what appears to be more evidence of Facebook struggling to stem the spread of misinformation and election interference on its platform.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
Zhang said she found a series of inauthentic accounts — a term used to describe engagement on the site involving bot accounts — used in an opposition campaign to promote Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Zhang said in the memo that Facebook did not launch an investigation into the activity until more than a year after she first reported it. She also said it took the company nine months to take action on a coordinated inauthentic campaign to influence public opinion and promote Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. Zhang said a similar pattern occurred in Bolivia and Ecuador.
Overall, Zhang wrote that she and her team removed “10.5 million fake reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 elections,” according to BuzzFeed. She said she had “blood on my hands by now,” blaming herself at least in part for some of the political strife that erupted in many of these nations. She described her role as highly stressful, a common characterization among content moderators for large tech firms.
Zhang wrote in her memo that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg prioritized networks concerning the US and Western Europe and that other nations took a back seat on the company’s radar. Zhang described an indifference attributed to “slapdash and haphazard accidents” rather than malicious intent, per the report. She did say, however, that Facebook routinely prioritized the company’s public image and “PR fires” over world issues, even if the “disproportionate impact” of those real-world problems would go ignored.
She said, per the outlet, that a NATO researcher brought to Facebook’s attention evidence of Russian inauthentic activity on a “high-profile US political figure that we didn’t catch.” It took that researcher saying they were planning on disclosing the evidence to Congress the next day for the company to prompt Zhang to investigate. She also wrote that to receive approval from higher-ups to investigate a matter, she would post about world issues in internal employee message boards to incentivize management.
As BuzzFeed notes, the kinds of operations outlined in Zhang’s memo are similar to one conducted by Russia in 2016 in an attempt to influence the outcome of that year’s US presidential election.