‘Politically-sophisticated network’ tried to influence Delhi polls: Ex-FB staffer

A network of more than a thousand actors worked to influence the elections, she alleges in a lengthy memo


In a 6,600-word internal memo by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang has alleged that the social media giant ignored evidence that the platform was being manipulated by fake accounts to influence elections in India, in particular Delhi Assembly polls.

The memo also named Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador where such a “manipulation” took place.

Sophie Zhang’s memo, on her last day at the company, and obtained by BuzzFeed News, claimed she had worked hard to remove “a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence” the Delhi elections.

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She did not reveal the political affiliation of the network. BuzzFeed News said Facebook never publicly discloses this network or that it had taken it down.

Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said in a statement: “We’ve built specialized teams, working with leading experts, to stop bad actors from abusing our systems, resulting in the removal of more than 100 networks for coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

Bourgeois said the Facebook teams are also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. “We investigate each issue carefully, including those that Ms. Zhang raises, before we take action or go out and make claims publicly as a company.”

Facebook reportedly told Zhang that “human resources are limited” when she asked the company to do more in terms of countering those trying to influence elections. Zhang exited this month as she turned down a $64,000 severance package from Facebook to avoid signing a non-disparagement agreement, BuzzFeed News reported.

Related news: Facebook engineer quits company for its failure to contain ‘hate speech’

In August, The Wall Street Journal has reported that Facebook’s public policy experts “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.”

The BJP countered it by saying the social media giant is biased against the ruling party.

Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the “Facebook India team, right from the India Managing Director to other senior officials, is dominated by people who belong to a particular political belief”.

The people from this political predisposition, the minister said, have been overwhelmingly defeated…in successive free and fair elections. “After having lost all democratic legitimacy, they are trying to discredit India’s democratic process by dominating the decision-making apparatus of important social media platforms”.

Related news: Facebook bans BJP’s Raja Singh over hate content

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