Facebook staffer sends ‘blood on my palms’ memo

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By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter

Phone with graphic of world

picture copyrightGetty Images

picture captionMany elections in lots of international locations have been manipulated by bots, claims the ex-data scientist

Fake accounts have been undermining elections around the globe, an ex-Facebook worker has claimed.

In a 6,600-word inner memo to fellow employees, information scientist Sophie Zhang mentioned she made choices “that affected national presidents” with out oversight.

“I have blood on my hands,” she wrote within the memo, components of which have been printed by Buzzfeed.

In response, Facebook mentioned it was working onerous to cease unhealthy actors and inauthentic behaviour.

In her memo, components of which have been printed by Buzzfeed with out her permission, Ms Zhang mentioned: “In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions.

“I’ve personally made choices that affected nationwide presidents with out oversight, and brought motion to implement towards so many distinguished politicians globally that I’ve misplaced rely,” she added.

It is reported by Buzzfeed, which said it had shared only those parts of her memo that were in the public interest, that Ms Zhang turned down a $64,000 (£49,000) severance package which she was offered on condition that she did not share her memo internally.

In response, Facebook said: “We’ve constructed specialised groups, working with main consultants, to cease unhealthy actors from abusing our methods, ensuing within the elimination of greater than 100 networks for co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour.

“It’s highly involved work that these teams do as their full-time remit. Working against co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour is our priority, but we’re also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement.

“We examine every difficulty fastidiously, together with people who Ms Zhang raises, earlier than we take motion or exit and make claims publicly as an organization.”

Examples of labor she refers to in her memo embrace:

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  • Facebook took nine months to act on information about bots being used to boost president Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras
  • In Azerbaijan, the ruling political party used thousands of bots to harass the opposition
  • 10.5 million fake reactions and fans were removed from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 elections
  • A Nato researcher told Facebook he had seen Russian activity on a high-profile US political figure, which Ms Zhang removed
  • Bot accounts were discovered in Bolivia and Ecuador but the issue was not prioritised due to workload
  • She found and removed 672,000 fake accounts acting against health ministries around the world during the pandemic
  • In India she worked to remove a politically sophisticated network of more than 1,000 actors working to influence local elections in Delhi
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMark Zuckerberg has admitted his firm was slow to understand political manipulation

“Facebook tasks a picture of power and competence to the surface world… however the actuality is that a lot of our actions are slapdash and haphazard accidents.”

She said the fact she had to make countless decisions about many different countries took a toll on her health and left her feeling responsible when civil unrest took place in locations that she had not prioritised for action.

Her revelations come just a week after ex-Facebook engineer Ashok Chandwaney accused the firm of profiting from hate.

Carole Cadwalladr, a UK journalist who exposed the Cambridge Analytica scandal,

tweeted: “The velocity and scale of the injury Facebook is doing to democracies around the globe is actually terrifying.”

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By Marianna Spring, Specialist disinformation reporter

This explosive memo confirms concerns that have long been raised about Facebook’s ability to tackle foreign interference and disinformation campaigns.

But while most eyes have been on Russian interference in US politics after the 2016 election, this former employee’s testimony turns attention to democratic events beyond the West.

Facebook’s failure to tackle disinformation in other languages has come under scrutiny during the pandemic – and this new information alleges it has struggled to tackle interference campaigns in non-English speaking nations before.

The memo also raises big concerns about the huge responsibility bestowed on junior Facebook moderators – whose decisions could affect democratic events, political outcomes and people’s lives globally.

This will no doubt increase concerns about Facebook’s work to tackle interference and disinformation campaigns as the next US election approaches. But it should remind us that Facebook plays a role in democratic events outside the US.

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Related Topics

  • Facebook

  • Fake News
  • Social media

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