We have yet another Facebook whistle-blower, this time they are claiming Facebook ignored fake accounts used from despots and foreign governments to harass opponents online and manufacture consent.
This is not a surprise. Facebook has been ignoring fake accounts so that they can sell non-existent eyeballs to advertisers for years.
The former Facebook data scientist Sophie Yang thinks that Facebook is not taking the issue seriously.
I think that Facebook DOES take this seriously. They simply CHOOSE to profit from it:
Facebook ignored or was slow to act on evidence that fake accounts on its platform have been undermining elections and political affairs around the world, according to an explosive memo sent by a recently fired Facebook employee and obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The 6,600-word memo, written by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, is filled with concrete examples of heads of government and political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras using fake accounts or misrepresenting themselves to sway public opinion. In countries including India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, she found evidence of coordinated campaigns of varying sizes to boost or hinder political candidates or outcomes, though she did not always conclude who was behind them.
The memo is a damning account of Facebook’s failures. It’s the story of Facebook abdicating responsibility for malign activities on its platform that could affect the political fate of nations outside the United States or Western Europe. It’s also the story of a junior employee wielding extraordinary moderation powers that affected millions of people without any real institutional support, and the personal torment that followed.
These are some of the biggest revelations in Zhang’s memo:
- It took Facebook’s leaders nine months to act on a coordinated campaign “that used thousands of inauthentic assets to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras on a massive scale to mislead the Honduran people.” Two weeks after Facebook took action against the perpetrators in July, they returned, leading to a game of “whack-a-mole” between Zhang and the operatives behind the fake accounts, which are still active.
- In Azerbaijan, Zhang discovered the ruling political party “utilized thousands of inauthentic assets… to harass the opposition en masse.” Facebook began looking into the issue a year after Zhang reported it. The investigation is ongoing.
- Zhang and her colleagues removed “10.5 million fake reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 elections.”
- In February 2019, a NATO researcher informed Facebook that “he’d obtained Russian inauthentic activity on a high-profile U.S. political figure that we didn’t catch.” Zhang removed the activity, “dousing the immediate fire,” she wrote.
- In Ukraine, Zhang “found inauthentic scripted activity” supporting both former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a pro–European Union politician and former presidential candidate, as well as Volodymyr Groysman, a former prime minister and ally of former president Petro Poroshenko. “Volodymyr Zelensky and his faction was the only major group not affected,” Zhang said of the current Ukrainian president.
- Zhang discovered inauthentic activity — a Facebook term for engagement from bot accounts and coordinated manual accounts— in Bolivia and Ecuador but chose “not to prioritize it,” due to her workload. The amount of power she had as a mid-level employee to make decisions about a country’s political outcomes took a toll on her health.
- After becoming aware of coordinated manipulation on the Spanish Health Ministry’s Facebook page during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhang helped find and remove 672,000 fake accounts “acting on similar targets globally” including in the US.
- In India, she worked to remove “a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence” the local elections taking place in Delhi in February. Facebook never publicly disclosed this network or that it had taken it down.
In her post, Zhang said she did not want it to go public for fear of disrupting Facebook’s efforts to prevent problems around the upcoming 2020 US presidential election, and due to concerns about her own safety. BuzzFeed News is publishing parts of her memo that are clearly in the public interest.
Zhang said she turned down a $64,000 severance package from the company to avoid signing a nondisparagement agreement. Doing so allowed her to speak out internally, and she used that freedom to reckon with the power that she had to police political speech.
A former Facebook engineer who knew her told BuzzFeed News that Zhang was skilled at discovering fake account networks on the platform.
“She’s the only person in this entire field at Facebook that I ever trusted to be earnest about this work,” said the engineer, who had seen a copy of Zhang’s post and asked not to be named because they no longer work at the company.
“A lot of what I learned from that post was shocking even to me as someone who’s often been disappointed at how the company treats its best people,” they said.
Still, she did not believe that the failures she observed during her two and a half years at the company were the result of bad intent by Facebook’s employees or leadership. It was a lack of resources, Zhang wrote, and the company’s tendency to focus on global activity that posed public relations risks, as opposed to electoral or civic harm.
No, it’s malice, and it comes from the top.
Expect an insincere apology from Mark Zuckerberg in 3………2………
Katy Pearce, an associate professor at the University of Washington who studies social media and communication technology in Azerbaijan, told BuzzFeed News that fake Facebook accounts have been used to undermine the opposition and independent media in the country for years.
“One of the big tools of authoritarian regimes is to humiliate the opposition in the mind of the public so that they’re not viewed as a credible or legitimate alternative,” she told BuzzFeed News. “There’s a chilling effect. Why would I post something if I know that I’m going to deal with thousands or hundreds of these comments, that I’m going to be targeted?”
Pearce said Zhang’s comment in the memo that Facebook “didn’t care enough to stop” the fake accounts and trolling aligns with her experience. “They have bigger fish to fry,” she said.
They said Facebook has at times made things worse by removing the accounts or pages of human rights activists and other people after trolls report them. “We tried to tell Facebook that this is a real person who does important work,” but it took weeks for the page to be restored.
Facebook is notorious for this, and they honestly don’t care. If they did, they would change it.
Zhang outlined the political processes within Facebook itself. She said the best way for her to gain attention for her work was not to go through the proper reporting channels, but to post about the issues on Facebook’s internal employee message board to build pressure.
“In the office, I realized that my viewpoints weren’t respected unless I acted like an arrogant asshole,” Zhang said.
Surprising, a toxic founder created a toxic workplace.
Even by the psychopathic standards of Silicon Valley, Facebook is remarkably evil.