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Facebook ignores Unconcealed Political Influence Around the World

A former data scientist has written a 6,600-word memo condemning the company for ignoring evidence that the platform was exerted to sway public opinion and influence elections around the world.

Earlier this month, data scientist Sophie Zhang was fired and then eventually posting the memo on her final day.

She implies that she was fired after bringing her concerns to the upper management and has been told to stop focusing on issues beyond the scope of her role that involves analyzing the platform to identify ;

“coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

This is Facebook’s phrase for bot networks and other malicious activity with ulterior motives like persuading election outcomes and endorsing undermining various political candidates and other controversial topics.

The memo also indicates that she turned down a $64,000 severance package for it involves the signing of a non-disparagement agreement that may have restricted her ability to speak publicly about the company.

“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, posted on LinkedIn as working for Facebook’s Site Integrity fake engagement team, wrote in her memo;

“I know that I have blood on my hands by now.”

In the memo posted, Zhang says that Facebook has often focused on the big-picture issues all the while ignoring many cases of outright political persuasion, like efforts to use Facebook to control public opinion in countries like Ukraine and India.

“Overall, the focus of my organization — and most of Facebook — was on large-scale problems, an approach which fixated us on spam,” Zhang wrote. “The civic aspect was discounted because of its small volume, its disproportionate impact ignored.”

Zhang’s memo also illustrates how even midlevel employees specializing in areas like data science, like herself, wield immense power within Facebook to moderate the activities of users as high-profile as world leaders.

“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 wrote.

It was also illustrated in the memo that how midlevel employees specializing in the areas like data science, like her, can wield immense power within Facebook to moderate the activities of users as prominent as world leaders.

Zhang also states that her workload, the total magnitude of the problem, and Facebook’s overall US and Europe-centric approach to reasonable made it, so numerous examples of such political manipulation went unpunished, and no one can bestow time to implementing the company’s rules or taking proper action against foreign actors out of the country.

The memo says Facebook did not act out of malice, but failing to divert enough attention and resources to the problem and cared more about the public relations’ backlash of any issue.

“It’s an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention,” Zhang wrote.

The memo notes how stories printed in major newspapers like The New York Times, or The Washington Post would attract Facebook leadership’s courtesy and may help hasten a solution to a problem like political manipulation in India’s Election.

“It’s why I’ve seen priorities of escalations shoot up when others start threatening to go to the press, and why I was informed by a leader in my organization that my civic work was not impactful under the rationale that if the problems were meaningful they would have attracted attention, became a press fire, and convinced the company to devote more attention to the space,” she elaborated.

Facebook is not yet responding to any inquiries about this news.

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