- A recently fired Facebook computer scientist wrote a lengthy note describing the tech giant’s inability to stop election interference in countries around the world, according to a Buzzfeed report.
- The employee, whose job was to find “unauthentic activity”, wrote that the company was slow to act against fake accounts that were used to manipulate political results in nations like India, Ukraine, Bolivia and many more.
- Instead, Sophie Zhang wrote that Facebook prioritized its public image by choosing which fake networks to investigate, even though the “disproportionate effect”
- The report is the latest example of Facebook’s long-standing struggle to stop the spread of misinformation and election interference and prioritize content moderation on its platform.
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A recently fired Facebook employee wrote a note on his last day at the company describing how the technology giant routinely ignored or did not prioritize fake account efforts to manipulate elections and political climate around the world, according to a report by Buzzfeed on Monday.
The 6,600-word memo was written by Sophie Zhang, a computer scientist whose job at the company was to identify fake accounts that were used to manipulate political results. The middle-level employee said she was tasked with exercising her own judgment without managerial support, while choosing which key issues to prioritize, which concerned Iraq, Indonesia, Italy, India, El Salvador and countless more nations. Zhang’s monumental workload resulted in many such fake networks slipping through the cracks in the latest example of Facebook’s longstanding struggle to stem the spread of misinformation and election interference on its platform.
Zhang found a series of unauthentic accounts – a term used to describe site engagement 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, and the probe is still running. It also took the company nine months to act on a coordinated unauthentic campaign to influence public opinion and promote Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, according to the report. Zhang said a similar pattern emerged in Bolivia and Ecuador.
Overall, Zhang wrote that she and her team removed “10.5 million false reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the United States in the 2018 election,” according to Buzzfeed. She said she knows she has “blood on my hands now” as political strife has erupted in many of these nations. She also said she has experienced mental stress and a decline in health due to the weight of such power given to her in her role, a common occurrence that has arisen among content moderators for large technology companies.
Zhang wrote in his memo that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg prioritized networking across the U.S. and Western Europe, but other nations took the back seat on the company’s radar. Zhang wrote that Facebook’s indifference was due to “slapdash and accidental accidents” instead of malicious intent, according to the report. However, she said that Facebook routinely prioritizes the company’s public image and “PR fires” over world issues, though the “disproportionate effect” of these real issues would be ignored.
She said per. Opportunity that a NATO researcher alerted Facebook to evidence of Russian unauthentic activity on a “high-profile U.S. political figure that we did not capture.” It required the researcher to say that they planned to pass evidence to Congress the next day in order for the company to ask Zhang to investigate. She also wrote that in order to receive the green light from higher up to investigate a case, she would write about world issues in internal staff bulletin boards to encourage management.
As Buzzfeed notes, the kind of operations outlined in Zhang’s note are similar to those carried out by Russia in 2016 in an attempt to influence the outcome of this year’s US presidential election, which President Donald Trump ultimately won.
Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Read the full report on Buzzfeed here.