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Facebook staffer sends 'blood on my hands' memo

BBC Technology 15 Sep 2020 03:37

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter

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

In a 6,600-word internal memo to fellow workers, data scientist Sophie Zhang said she made decisions "that affected national presidents" without oversight.

"I have blood on my hands," she 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 behaviour.

In her memo, parts of which were published by Buzzfeed without her permission, Ms Zhang said: "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 have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I've lost count," she added.

In response, Facebook said: "We've built specialised teams, working with leading experts, to stop bad actors from abusing our systems, resulting in the removal of more than 100 networks for co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour.

"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."

  • 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

"Facebook projects an image of strength and competence to the outside world... but the reality is that many of our actions are slapdash and haphazard accidents."

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

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

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.

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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