Facebook has been further exposed for its inability to deal with misinformation, this time by an ex-employee. As reported by BuzzFeed News Facebook ignored or was slow to act on evidence regarding fake news.
Facebook has claimed that it has begun to successful crackdown on coronavirus misinformation. However, many have disagreed with this assessment. A recent report compounded this news by claiming Facebook has failed in its duty to crack down on misinformation.
In a long memo written by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, she revealed lots of examples when Facebook failed to deal with misinformation. These include heads of government and political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras used fake accounts to sway public opinion.
Facebook further exposed for its handling of misinformation
The memo from Zhang also found examples in countries such as India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Here there was evidence of coordinated political campaigns to help or hinder political candidates.
She said, "I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform". Zhang declined to publicly comment to any news outlets after this memo emerged.
Zhang also admitted to having "made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight". The memo is seriously damming of Facebook's policies and systems in this area.
Generally, it is a story of Facebook ignoring and abdicating responsibility. Perhaps more worryingly it shows how junior employees could wield such significant power that could affect millions of people.
Some of the biggest revelations of the memo include Facebook taking nine months to act on a campaign used to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras. In Azerbaijan, Zhan found thousands of fake accounts used to "harass the opposition en masse".
She also noted that her team had to remove 10.5million fake reactions during the 2018 elections in Brazil and the U.S. Zhang also noted many other instances of bad actors on the platform.
Facebook but does not have a political agenda but is incapable
Zhang was quick to clarify that she does not think Facebook hold a political agenda as reported by Engadget. However, there is a big lack of focus on the world outside the West and the U.S. This means mid-level employees have to make decisions that have massive effects.
Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois responded to this explosive news. She said, "we’ve built specialized teams, working with leading experts, to stop bad actors from abusing our systems".
Zhang said that she was fired in August and denied a $64,000 severance package. This was due to avoiding signing a nondisparagement agreement. This allowed her to speak internally about her concerns.
The amount of effort put in to discourage Zhang from speaking out stands in stark contrast to the lack of it put into place to protect democratic processes in smaller nations, pointed out Zhang.
This overall looks like Facebook simply did not bother to invest in the resources enough to stop bad actors. Especially in smaller countries where there was less focus on Facebook's actions.
Zhang even admitted having "blood on my hands" due to her actions during her time at Facebook. After leaving the company Zhang encouraged her colleagues to stay the company but to change it from within.
She admits that her actions will likely distract from the companies efforts during the 2020 elections. However, she hoped that this will not be the case.
This story further illuminates the major issues faced by Facebook. The company has begun to make the right noises with regards to misinformation. However, this news makes it clear the company is a long way off from being an effective company in this area.