Facebook has royally screwed up its response to
Zhang discovered and took down a “politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors” trying to manipulate elections in Delhi, India. (Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook’s top public policy staffer in India, Ankhi Das, had pushed to prevent rules against hate speech from being applied to members of the ultra-nationalist BJP political party.) Zhang wrote she found “inauthentic activity” supporting the ouster of soon-to-be former President Evo Morales, and in Ecuador found similar activity supporting the ruling government, which later disastrously failed to contain the pandemic. Zhang wrote in the letter she did not prioritize these situations because her workload was already too high, BuzzFeed wrote.
“We focus upon harm and priority regions like the United States and Western Europe,” Zhang wrote in the memo, according to BuzzFeed. “… It became impossible to read the news and monitor world events without feeling the weight of my own responsibility.”
“I have made countless decisions in this vein—from Iraq to Indonesia, from Italy to El Salvador,” she added. “Individually, the impact was likely small in each case, but the world is a vast place. Although I made the best decision I could based on the knowledge available at the time, ultimately I was the one who made the decision not to push more or prioritize further in each case, and I know that I have blood on my hands by now.”
Zhang also wrote in the memo that Facebook discounted or was slow to act on civic interference because it was “fixated” on problems like spam, with its “disproportionate impact ignored.” Zhang wrote that she was fired after she asked the company to devote more resources to stopping inauthentic political activity; Facebook declined and told her to focus on civic work. The former data scientist declined to speak with BuzzFeed, though she wrote in the memo she turned down a $64,000 severance payment so she could freely discuss her experience at Facebook.
“We’ve built specialized teams, working with leading experts, to stop bad actors from abusing our systems, resulting in the removal of more than 100 networks for coordinated inauthentic behavior,” a Facebook spokesperson, Liz Bourgeois, told BuzzFeed in a statement. “It’s highly involved work that these teams do as their full-time remit. Working against coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority, but we’re also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. We investigate each issue carefully, including those that Ms. Zhang raises, before we take action or go out and make claims publicly as a company.”
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