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Facebook ignored open political manipulation around the world, the former data scientist claims

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A fired data scientist on Facebook has written a 6,600-word memo condemning the company for ignoring evidence that the platform was used to shake public opinion and manipulate elections around the world, according to a report by BuzzFeed News, who received a copy of the memorandum. Data scientist Sophie Zhang was fired earlier this month and posted a memo on her last day, the report reads.

Zhang means she was fired after bringing her concerns to top management and was told to stop focusing on issues beyond the scope of her role, which included analyzing the platform for uncoordinated coordinated identity behavior, the phrase of Facebook for bot networks and other malicious activities with covert motives such as influencing election results and promoting or undermining various political candidates and controversial topics. The memorandum states that she also rejected a $ 64,000 disconnection package because it involved signing a non-depreciation agreement that would have limited her ability to speak publicly about the company.

In the three years I spent on Facebook, Ive found numerous clear attempts by foreign governments to abuse our large-scale platform to defraud their citizenship and caused international news on many occasions, Zhang, who is listed on LinkedIn as working for Facebooks Site Integrity’s fake engagement team wrote in her memo. I know I already have blood on my hands.

In her memo, Zhang said Facebook often focused on big picture issues while ignoring many individual cases of outright political manipulation, such as attempts to use Facebook to influence public opinion in countries like Ukraine and India. Overall, the focus of my organization and much of Facebook was on large-scale problems, an approach which fixed us in spam, Zhang wrote. The civic aspect was downplayed due to its small volume, its disproportionate impact was ignored.

The Zhangs Memorandum also illustrates how even mid-level employees specializing in fields like data science, like it, have tremendous power within Facebook to moderate the activities of high-profile users as world leaders. “I have personally made decisions that affect national presidents without oversight, and I have taken action to enforce against so many globally prominent politicians that I have lost count,” she wrote.

On other occasions, Zhang says that her workload, the sheer size of the problem, and Facebook’s general approach to the US and Europe to moderate made her so many cases of such political manipulation go unpunished, as no one could devote time to enforcing the rules of the enterprise. or taking appropriate action against foreign actors abroad.

The memo states that Facebook was not acting maliciously, but for not achieving sufficient attention and resources to the problem and to take more care of the public relations response to any issue. It is an open secret within the civic integrity space that Facebook’s short-term decisions are motivated primarily by PR and the potential for negative attention, Zhang wrote. The memo notes how they like stories published in major newspapers New York Times or Washington Post would grab the attention of Facebook executives and help speed up a solution to a problem like political manipulation in India elections.

The reason why I have seen the benefits of escalation collide when others start threatening to go to the press and why I was informed by a leader in my organization that my civil work was not influential under the pretext that if the problems were meaningful they would have attracted attention, there was a press fire and persuaded the company to pay more attention to the space, she explained.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

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