Facebook knew about dozens of election manipulation efforts around the world and either pushed them off or “ignored” them entirely, a former employee says.
In a 6,600-word memo obtained by BuzzFeed News, former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang details how she “found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry.” But with limited resources, Zhang was often left to deal with those myriad attempts on her own, choosing either to prioritize them or push them off.
In her time at Facebook, Zhang said she had “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.” That included finding inauthentic assets — fake accounts — aimed at boosting Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez; 10.5 million fake reactions and fans backing politicians in Brazil and the U.S.; and inauthentic activity supporting several Ukrainian politicians.
But Facebook tended to “focus on global activity that posed public relations risks, as opposed to electoral or civic harm,” Buzzfeed News reports from the memo. And so Zhang, blaming a lack of resources devoted to the issue, was among a team providing “whack-a-mole” solutions to issues of global importance, Buzzfeed News continues. “Facebook projects an image of strength and competence to the outside world,” Zhang wrote. “But the reality is that many of our actions are slapdash and haphazard accidents.” And while she and other employees did the best jobs they could, Zhang said she’s certain mistakes were made, and “I know that I have blood on my hands by now.”
Zhang declined to speak with BuzzFeed News. A Facebook spokesperson said the company has “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,” and that it investigated the instances Zhang outlined. Read more at BuzzFeed News. Kathryn Krawczyk