A data scientist reportedly wrote a damning 6,600-word memo to her colleagues at Facebook on her final day at work expressing dire concern over the way the tech giant fails to properly combat the use of fake accounts to sway politics in smaller countries.
BuzzFeed obtained a copy of the memo, posted by Sophie Zhang, and published excerpts of it Monday.
“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,” Zhang reportedly wrote in the memo.
The former Facebook scientist provided examples of how her team worked to find and stop misleading Facebook campaigns, including some run by political parties and government figures in Azerbaijan and Honduras, according to BuzzFeed.
A LinkedIn profile under the name of Sophie Zhang lists her as a “former data scientist” who worked for the “Site Integrity fake engagement team” — a team dedicated to combating and rooting out “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” including bots and fake engagement efforts, to undermine elections and influence politics.
Zhang was fired from Facebook and sent the memo to employees on her final day of work, BuzzFeed reported. She declined HuffPost’s request for comment.
Among other examples cited by BuzzFeed, Zhang’s memo claimed that it took Facebook’s leaders nine months to take action against a campaign “that used thousands of inauthentic assets to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras on a massive scale to mislead the Honduran people.”
Other examples reportedly cited in the memo involved 10.5 million “fake reactions and fans from high-profile politicians in Brazil and the US in the 2018 election,” as well as campaigns aimed at Ukrainian politicians.
Here is Facebook’s full statement to employees about our story. Some employees are mad that the company is only now responding after they’ve been aware of the memo for week. Some believe the company is completely dismissive of the memo author’s work and contributions. pic.twitter.com/GTb9f4mh0o
— Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) September 14, 2020
The irony of this is that Facebook denigrates the memo’s author by saying it “was not her primary focus or role” to find coordinated inauthentic behavior.A common internal company saying is “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.”Square those two statements.
— Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) September 14, 2020
Zhang said in the memo that her workload and the problem of these misleading Facebook efforts were so large that she couldn’t focus on stopping similar efforts in smaller countries — despite the potentially devastating effects on those countries.
She claimed that senior leadership at Facebook didn’t seem interested in protecting the democracies of smaller countries against these efforts, noting that she was forced to deal with these issues largely by herself.
“With no oversight whatsoever, I was left in a situation where I was trusted with immense influence in my spare time,” she wrote, according to BuzzFeed. “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.”
“I know that I have blood on my hands by now,” Zhang also wrote.
In a statement to The New York Times, Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said that the company prioritized fighting “inauthentic behavior.”
“Working against coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority, but we’re also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement,” Bourgeois told the paper. “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.”
Zhang reportedly turned down a severance package offered by Facebook to avoid signing a nondisparagement agreement, which enabled her to send the memo companywide, according to BuzzFeed.
Facebook did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment.
Facebook’s critics responded to Zhang’s memo by condemning the social media platform for damaging democracy across the globe.
Yet another devastating story about Facebook. Huge kudos to Sophie Zhang, an employee who turned down $64k severance to tell the truth.The speed & scale of the damage Facebook is doing to democracies around the world is truly terrifying https://t.co/84UJFulnDQ
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) September 14, 2020
Facebook will not create guardrails to keep democracy from falling. This memo requires both an American and UN response. We must create laws and exorbitant penalties for violating said laws. I’ve often said that FB has the power of a nation state, but this confirms it’s worse. https://t.co/Mt72Le886S
— Karla Monterroso #BLM #ClosetheCamps (@karlitaliliana) September 14, 2020
This memo suggests, as others have before, that PR governs Facebook’s approach to coordinated and malicious activity on its platform. And to Facebook PR, the world **is** the United States and Western Europe. For us in “the rest”, we know this. https://t.co/VW08KIwrtw
— Ariel Bogle (@arielbogle) September 14, 2020 RELATED… I Was Unwittingly Recruited By An Alleged Russian 'Troll Farm.' Here's What Happened. Facebook Engineer Pens Letter Saying Company Is 'On The Wrong Side of History' Facebook To Restrict New Political Ads In Week Before Election Download Calling all HuffPost superfans! Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter Join HuffPost