Facebook staffer sends ‘blood on my hands’ memo
Fake accounts undermined elections around the world, a former Facebook employee said.
In a 6,600-word internal note to her colleagues, data scientist Sophie Zhang said she made decisions “that influenced national presidents” without supervision.
“I have blood on my hands,” he wrote in the memo, parts of which were published by Buzzfeed.
In response, Facebook said it was working hard to stop bad actors and inauthentic behavior.
In her memo, portions of which were posted by Buzzfeed without her permission, Ms. Zhang said, “In the three years I spent on Facebook, I have seen multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on Facebook. large scale to mislead one’s citizenship and cause international news on multiple occasions.
“I have personally made decisions that have influenced national presidents unsupervised, and I have taken steps to enforce so many prominent global politicians that I have lost count,” he added.
It is reported by Buzzfeed, who claimed to have only shared those parts of her memo that were of public interest, that Ms. Zhang refused a $ 64,000 (£ 49,000) layoff package that was offered to her on the condition that she did not shared his memo internally.
In response, Facebook said: “We have created specialized teams, working with leading experts, to prevent attackers from abusing our systems, resulting in the removal of more than 100 networks for coordinated inauthentic behavior.
“It is highly engaging work that these teams do as their full-time duty. Working against coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority, but we are also addressing the issues of spam and fake engagement.
“We carefully investigate any issues, including those raised by Ms. Zhang, before taking action or publicly declaring complaints as a company.”
Examples of work he references in his memo include:
- Facebook took nine months to act based on information about bots used to strengthen Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez
- In Azerbaijan, the ruling political party has used thousands of bots to harass the opposition
- 10.5 million false reactions and fans were removed from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the United States in the 2018 election
- A NATO researcher told Facebook he saw Russian activity on a high-profile US political figure, whom Ms. Zhang removed.
- Bot accounts were discovered in Bolivia and Ecuador, but due to the workload, the issue was not prioritized
- Found and removed 672,000 fake accounts acting against health ministries around the world during the pandemic
- In India he worked to remove a politically sophisticated network of over 1,000 actors working to influence local elections in Delhi
“Facebook projects an image of strength and competence to the outside world … but the reality is that many of our actions are sudden and random accidents.”
She said having to make countless decisions about many different countries impacted her health and left her feeling responsible when civil unrest occurred in places she didn’t prioritize action.
His revelations come just a week after former Facebook engineer Ashok Chandwaney accused the company of profiting from hatred.
tweeted: “The speed and extent of the damage Facebook is doing to democracies around the world is truly terrifying.”
By Marianna Spring, journalist specializing in disinformation
This explosive reminder confirms concerns that have long been raised about Facebook’s ability to deal with 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 draws attention to democratic events beyond the West.
Facebook’s failure to address disinformation in other languages was examined during the pandemic – and this new information says it has struggled to tackle interference campaigns in non-English-speaking nations.
The memo also raises major concerns about the enormous responsibility vested in junior Facebook moderators, whose decisions could affect democratic events, political achievements, and people’s lives globally.
This will undoubtedly increase concerns about Facebook’s work to deal with interference and disinformation campaigns as the upcoming US election approaches. But it should remind us that Facebook plays a role in democratic events outside the United States.
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