Whistleblower Discusses Fake Account Infestation at Facebook

May 25, 2021

While working at Facebook, Sophie Zhang followed her conscience where her managers and peers failed to go. Naturally, this initiative eventually got her fired. AP News shares the data scientist’s perspective in, “Insider Q&A: Sophie Zhang, Facebook Whistleblower.” Reporter Barbara Ortutay introduces the interview:

“Sophie Zhang worked as a Facebook data scientist for nearly three years before was she fired in the fall of 2020. On her final day, she posted a 7,800-word memo to the company’s internal forum. … In the memo, first published by Buzzfeed, she outlined evidence that governments in countries like Azerbaijan and Honduras were using fake accounts to influence the public. Elsewhere, such as India and Ecuador, Zhang found coordinated activity intended to manipulate public opinion, although it wasn’t clear who was behind it. Facebook, she said, didn’t take her findings seriously. Zhang’s experience led her to a stark conclusion: ‘I have blood on my hands.’ Facebook has not disputed the facts of Zhang’s story but has sought to diminish the importance of her findings.”

If you have not yet seen excerpts from the eye-opening memo or read the full story, we suggest checking out the Buzzfeed and/or Guardian links Ortutay supplies above. In the AP interview, Zhang adds some details. For example, she was apparently fired because the work she did to protect citizens around the world was interfering with her official, low-level duties. She blamed herself, however, for not doing more because she was the only one seeking out and taking down these fake accounts. No one around her seemed to give a hoot unless an outside agency contacted Facebook about a specific page. She states:

“I talked about it internally … but people couldn’t agree on whose job it was to deal with it. I was trying desperately to find anyone who cared. I talked with my manager and their manager. I talked to the threat intelligence team. I talked with many integrity teams. It took almost a year for anything to happen.”

It was actually remarkable how many fake accounts Zhang was able to eliminate on her own, but one employee could only do so much. Especially without the support of higher ups. Though Facebook pays lip service to the issue, Zhang insists they would be doing more if they were really prioritizing the problem. We note this exchange:

“Q: Facebook says it’s taking down many inauthentic accounts and has sought to dismiss your story.

A: So this is a very typical Facebook response, by which I mean that they are not actually answering the question. Suppose your spouse asks you, ‘Did you clean up the dishes yesterday?’ And you respond by saying, ‘I always prioritize cleaning the dishes. I make sure to clean the dishes. I do not want there to be dirty dishes.’ It’s an answer that may make sense, but it does not actually answer that question.”


Cynthia Murrell, May 19, 2021


One Response to “Whistleblower Discusses Fake Account Infestation at Facebook”

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