An internal document describes cases in which nation states and political leaders “carried out large-scale abuses to deceive their own citizens.” “I know I have blood on my hands,” said Sophie Zhang, who wrote the text and was recently fired.
September 14, 2020 Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg (EFE / EPA / MICHAEL REYNOLDS)
Facebook ignored or did not act quickly enough against different campaigns carried out on the social network with the aim of manipulating elections and other political processes , according to a report released this Monday.
The 6,600-page internal document, cited by Buzzfeed News reveals the company's inaction on numerous specific acts . Behind him is Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist who worked on the company's integrity team dealing with bogus accounts that sought to influence elections, and was recently fired.
” I know I have blood on my hands, ” Zhang said in a passage from the memo, describing the concrete consequences of the campaigns carried out with impunity within the social network, which as of August 10 had 2.7 billion users at the level. global.
” In the three years I spent on Facebook, I found multiple and obvious attempts by national governments to abuse our platform on a large scale to deceive their own citizens, generating news of international impact on multiple occasions,” Zhang said in a paragraph of the document .
“I have personally made decisions that affected presidents without anyone supervising me,” he added. And she said that having that power despite being a mid-range employee ended up affecting her health : she assured that the lack of institutional support and the potential effects of her actions or lack of them led her to stop being able to sleep . And also to feel responsible for social conflicts that took place in countries that he decided not to prioritize.
“There were so many rule-violating behaviors around the world that I ended up with the responsibility of determining which cases to continue investigating.”
Zhang noted that despite his findings, Facebook's top brass showed little interest in protecting democratic processes in small countries. Along these lines, he described how they prioritized the United States and Western Europe, and how they only acted with respect to other regions after he reiterated his warnings in the public forums of the company's internal messaging application , Workplace.
Among the cases he mentioned is the use of fake accounts to artificially alter the image of governments and political parties in Honduras and Azerbaijan . And coordinated campaigns of different sizes that sought to promote or damage candidates or elections in countries such as India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, the United States, Bolivia and Ecuador .
Zhang explained that he decided not to publish the document for two reasons: for fear that it would affect Facebook's efforts to prepare for the US presidential elections, which will take place on November 3; and for fear of endangering their own safety. ” I understand that they put me in an impossible place: caught between my loyalty to the company and my loyalty to the whole world, ” he expressed to express his feelings.
Stock photo illustrative of a 3D print of the Facebook logo. Mar 25, 2020. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic
Buzzfeed explained that it decided to publish the elements of the document that did not contain Zhang's personal information and that it considered to be of ” clear public interest .”
The site lists the following disclosures contained in the memo:
– “ Facebook took nine months to act on a coordinated campaign that 'used thousands of inauthentic assets (fake accounts) to improve the image of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and deceive the Honduran people .” Two weeks after the social network did, those who carried out the first campaign returned. This led Zhang to carry out a kind of persecution of those behind the false accounts, which are still active.
– “In Azerbaijan, Zhang discovered that the ruling party had ' used thousands of false accounts to massively harass the opposition .” Facebook began investigating the incident a year after Zhang reported it. The investigation is still continuing ”.
– “Zhang and his colleagues removed '10.5 million false reactions and fans from the accounts of high-profile politicians in Brazil and the United States during the 2018 elections .'
– “In February 2019, a NATO investigator informed Facebook that he had identified fake accounts from Russia concerning a 'high-profile political figure from the United States'. Facebook had failed to identify the activity and was quick to react before the investigator reported to the (US) Congress the next day. Zhang removed the activity 'by putting out the impending fire .'
– “In Ukraine, Zhang 'found false account activities' that supported both former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko , a supporter of closer ties with Europe, and Volodymyr Groysman , also former Prime Minister and ally of former President Petro Poroshenko .”
– “He also found false activity in Bolivia and Ecuador but decided not to prioritize it given the amount of work he had .”
– “After determining the existence of an attempted coordinated manipulation of the Facebook account of the Spanish Ministry of Health during the Covid-19 pandemic, it helped find and remove 672,000 false accounts that acted in a similar way on other targets globally , including the United States “.
– “In India, worked to remove 'a sophisticated political network of more than 1,000 actors working to influence the elections to be held in New Delhi . '”
Zhang explained that when he brought his concerns to his superiors and asked for more resources to be devoted to countering malicious activities related to political processes, the answer was no: “Human resources are limited,” they told him.
In contrast, he said, the greatest efforts are dedicated to prioritizing its public image. ” It is an open secret that Facebook's short-term decisions are driven by the potential negative attention” it may receive , he said. Along these lines, he recalled that when he was ordered to stop focusing on the civic area, “they warned me that Facebook would not continue to need my services if I refused.”
However, the lack of actions by the social network to counteract hateful content – not limited to the political sphere – has also affected the company. In July, more than 1,000 companies – including many multinationals – stopped paying for ads on the social network for that precise reason. A New York Times report on the boycott indicated that while the decision did not create significant financial problems, it did affect the company's image .
Photo of Mark Zuckerberg during a hearing in the United States Congress. Photo via REUTERS
Zhang was fired from Facebook in September. She said she offered to stay as a volunteer until the US presidential election, but her offer was rejected. He published the document on his last day of work and urged his now former colleagues not to leave the company and seek others with the same convictions to “fix it from within . “
In an attempt to assuage criticism of its inaction in the face of political and electoral manipulation, Facebook announced in early September that it will ban the publication of all new political ads and messages on its pages a week before the US presidential elections. United . It also indicated that it will carry out other measures “to reduce the risk of misinformation”, such as limiting the forwarding of messages through Messenger. ”
However, different voices expressed skepticism about the possibility that the social network avoids being used to manipulate the process. In dialogue with The Washington Post , Rashad Robinson, executive director of the civil rights organization Color of Change, wondered: “With Facebook, it's always about whether they are actually going to get things done or not. Can they really implement these policies? Are they going to do it? ”.