An ex-employee of Facebook has accused the company of prioritising issues that pose public relations (PR) risks over those that can cause civic harm. First reported by Buzzfeed News, the accusations come from Sophie Zhang, a data scientist at Facebook who wrote an internal memo citing examples of how Facebook was slow to act on fake accounts etc. even when there was concrete evidence. Zhang was recently fired from Facebook.
In the memo, Zhang cites examples of how politicians in countries like Honduras, Azerbaijan, Brazil, and even India have been misusing the platform to sway public opinion.
According to the report, Facebook removed a network of accounts meant to influence the Delhi elections earlier this year, and the company made no disclosures of the same.
Additionally, she says that Facebook’s senior leadership was reluctant to focus on smaller countries, instead prioritising regions in the US and Western Europe.
“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 wrote.
Facebook announced the takedown of malicious accounts from Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s marketing team in 2019, but Zhang wrote that it took the company almost a year to take them down. Also, Facebook never disclosed the fact that the accounts were up and running again soon after the takedown.
Zhang also wrote that there is “much violating behaviour” all over the world and it was left to her “personal assessment” to decide which cases to investigate.
She alleged that in many cases, Facebook didn’t take action even after she raised them as issues. She said that going through the designated channels didn’t work, and she had to take other routes. She was eventually asked to stop her civic work and Facebook told her they would have to let her go if she refused.