Ex-Facebook employee makes explosive claims that tech giant ignored worldwide political manipulation: report

Zuckerberg addresses concerns about politically-divisive content on Facebook

A whistleblower claims Facebook ignored evidence that fake accounts were used to undermine elections and political affairs around the globe, with overwhelmed junior-level employees left to arbitrarily police malevolent activity, according to BuzzFeed News.

Citing “an explosive memo sent by a recently fired Facebook employee,” BuzzFeed News reported on Tuesday that now-former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang has “concrete examples of heads of government and political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras using fake accounts or misrepresenting themselves to sway public opinion.”

The bombshell report, headlined, “'I Have Blood on My Hands’: A Whistleblower Says Facebook Ignored Global Political Manipulation,” was written by reporters Craig Silverman, Ryan Mac and Pranav Dixit after they obtained Zhang’s memo.

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“In countries including India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, she found evidence of coordinated campaigns of varying sizes to boost or hinder political candidates or outcomes, though she did not always conclude who was behind them,” the report said.

Zhang declined to speak with BuzzFeed News for the piece.

“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," 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."

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment from Fox News.

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Zhang reportedly wrote that she 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.”

She claimed that her role at Facebook allowed her to make “decisions that affected national presidents without oversight” and enforced action against so many “prominent” politicians around the world that she has lost count.

“In her post, Zhang said she did not want it to go public for fear of disrupting Facebook’s efforts to prevent problems around the upcoming 2020 US presidential election, and due to concerns about her own safety. BuzzFeed News is publishing parts of her memo that are clearly in the public interest,” BuzzFeed wrote.

BuzzFeed didn’t publish the entire memo because it contained personal information, according to the report.

“I know that I have blood on my hands by now,” Zhang reportedly wrote.

“The memo is a damning account of Facebook’s failures. It’s the story of Facebook abdicating responsibility for malign activities on its platform that could affect the political fate of nations outside the United States or Western Europe. It's also the story of a junior employee wielding extraordinary moderation powers that affected millions of people without any real institutional support, and the personal torment that followed,” the BuzzFeed reporters added before listing some of the “biggest revelations” in Zhang’s memo.

Zhang's list includes claims that:

  • Facebook’s executives took nine months to act on a coordinated campaign using fake assets to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras
  • The ruling party in Azerbaijan utilized thousands of fake assets… to “harass the opposition en masse.”
  • Facebook removed “10.5 million fake reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the U.S. in the 2018 elections
  • A NATO researcher informed Facebook that he “obtained Russian inauthentic activity on a high-profile U.S. political figure that we didn’t catch.” 

Zhang’s memo reportedly refers to “inauthentic activity” as “a Facebook term for engagement from bot accounts and coordinated manual accounts.”

BuzzFeed also noted that Zhang’s memo included claims that inauthentic activity was discovered in both Bolivia and Ecuador but it was not prioritized by Facebook, the Spanish Health Ministry’s Facebook used “coordinated manipulation” during the coronavirus pandemic and she helped stop “a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence" local elections in India.

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Zhang said she turned down a $64,000 severance package from Facebook to avoid signing a non-disclosure agreement, according to BuzzFeed.

“There was so much violating behavior worldwide that it was left to my personal assessment of which cases to further investigate, to file tasks, and escalate for prioritization afterwards,” Zhang wrote in the memo, according to BuzzFeed.

“With no oversight whatsoever, I was left in a situation where I was trusted with immense influence in my spare time… A manager on Strategic Response mused to myself that most of the world outside the West was effectively the Wild West with myself as the part-time dictator – he meant the statement as a compliment, but it illustrated the immense pressures upon me,” she continued.

The lengthy report details many more of Zhang’s claims, ranging from “a large-scale fake account network used to amplify and manipulate information about COVID-19" to Facebook allegedly ignoring inauthentic activity on occasion.

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She also reportedly criticized Facebook for spending too much time focused on spam and was told resources were limited when she urged Facebook to crack down on “malicious activity related to elections” and other similar issues.

“I was told that Facebook would no longer have further need for my services if I refused,” Zhang reportedly wrote.

She was fired earlier this month and shared the memo on her final day, according to BuzzFeed.

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