We simply didn’t care enough to stop them
September 18, 2020 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Facebook ignored or was slow to act on evidence that fake accounts on its platform have been undermining elections and political affairs around the world, according to an explosive memo sent by a recently fired Facebook employee and obtained by BuzzFeed News.
posted by blue shadows (17 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this post and thought yeah, of course, Facebook has been crap at this and we already know all about it.

Then I read the article.

Now all I can say is



posted by medusa at 4:44 PM on September 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

In her post, Zhang said she did not want it to go public for fear of disrupting Facebook’s efforts to prevent problems around the upcoming 2020 US presidential election, and due to concerns about her own safety. BuzzFeed News is publishing parts of her memo that are clearly in the public interest.

When is a whistleblower not a whistleblower? Journalism like this is needed, but these reckless articles are going to get people killed.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:50 PM on September 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

This story is worth reading in full. I can't get over how terrifying the accidental responsibility involved in that job sounds. Choice quotes:

"With no oversight whatsoever, I was left in a situation where I was trusted with immense influence in my spare time"


"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."
posted by simonw at 4:53 PM on September 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

I am just floored that they only thought this was worth $64,000.
posted by jeather at 5:35 PM on September 18, 2020 [8 favorites]

The most terrifying thing about digital despotism is how much responsibility is left to underpaid mid-level employees. Some of them will turn for the public interest but how many turn for lucrative opportunities to exploit the masses?
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:04 PM on September 18, 2020 [8 favorites]

The amount of responsibility would see me weeping in a fetal position within 24 hours, but my god the work sounds fascinating. I’d have cheerfully fetched coffee for Ms Zhang as her unpaid intern just to observe this stuff up close.
posted by um at 7:48 PM on September 18, 2020

Jesus. People. Stop using Facebook.
posted by flamk at 10:19 PM on September 18, 2020 [13 favorites]

A) be a billionaire in a functional democracy
B) be a little richer but in a dysfunctional autocracy

I feel like guys like Zuckerberg fundamentally do not understand that even a billionaire’s freedoms can be curtailed in an autocracy. You’re always going to be at the whims of the autocrat’s grace because the autocrat controls the state’s monopoly on violene AND the autocrat has curated his own brownshirts too. There’s a reason why George Soros has stopped traveling to his birth country, Hungary, which is only a little further along the road to autocracy than the US
posted by Skwirl at 3:01 AM on September 19, 2020 [9 favorites]

I keep coming back to her insistence that Facebook isn’t malicious, it just doesn’t have the resources to fix it.

People make up myths and conspiracy theories about malign powers controlling the world, because that’s actually a lot more comforting than the truth, which is that those powers are generally completely indifferent.

The fact that Facebook clearly doesn’t give the smallest shit about this — it needs to be wrapped up in a PR campaign before it even crosses their radar — is by far the most horrifying thing about this for me.
posted by bjrubble at 3:58 AM on September 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

The fact that Facebook clearly doesn’t give the smallest shit about this — it needs to be wrapped up in a PR campaign before it even crosses their radar — is by far the most horrifying thing about this for me.

I've been struggling with comment on the article because it seems so horribly expected to me--it's what I'd expect to be happening, given my experience with the tech industry. My career is full of instances where a colleague or I has said "You need to fix this or it'll come back to bite us" to a PM or senior management and we've been ignored because fixing the thing wasn't going to move whatever number they had decided was the all-important thing that week. This is the exact same thing, except Facebook has a moral imperative to actually fix these things. But they won't because democracy doesn't make them money.

One of the reasons I took my current job is the size of the company. My work does have far-reaching consequences (this is probably unavoidable for data science-types), but, at the end of the day, the company's future does not ride on my team, there are too many other moving pieces. The removal of that pressure was a huge relief. Sometimes that's infuriating--someone's always "needing to prioritise" and won't listen to why the thing you need them to do is important. When I've been at smaller companies, there'd be three or four of us and we knew how the sausage was made, we knew what all the numbers were and we'd be sitting there literally trying to dream up a new product that the company desperately needed to have a long-term future, and then we'd go to an all-staff meeting where some number we'd computed the week before would be touted as this rosy sign for the future and we'd look at each other thinking "No, that number is a bad, bad sign". Zhang has the worst of both worlds--huge power, but screaming into the void--except the burden is way bigger than the future of the company.

I have no idea if that's the tech industry or just capitalism.
posted by hoyland at 4:41 AM on September 19, 2020 [9 favorites]

I have no idea if that's the tech industry or just capitalism.


posted by eviemath at 4:54 AM on September 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

I highly recommend the documentary on Netflix called The Social Dilemma. The movie details the psychological methods used by Facebook, Twitter, etc. to not only keep you scrolling and racking up advertising money, but also to change you fundamentally as a person. It is a terrifying tale told by people who helped create those platforms and now want you to get as far away from them as possible.
posted by ceejaytee at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Zhang’s memo said the lack of institutional support and heavy stakes left her unable to sleep. She often felt responsible when civil unrest took hold in places she didn’t prioritize for investigation and action."

Oh woops, I didn't think Azerbaijan was that important, and now their economy is tanked. Mondays, am I right?
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:59 AM on September 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just as an aside from the screaming, as a fiction writer I couldn't have gone with "Liz Bourgeois" as the name for the Facebook spokesperson character, that's way too on the nose.
posted by terretu at 9:08 AM on September 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

“In the office, I realized that my viewpoints weren’t respected unless I acted like an arrogant asshole,” Zhang said. When she asked the company to do more in terms of finding and stopping malicious activity related to elections and political activity, she said she was told that “human resources are limited.” And when she was ordered to stop focusing on civic work, “I was told that Facebook would no longer have further need for my services if I refused.”

Speaking of assholes...
posted by Bella Donna at 10:56 AM on September 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

@HeerJeet: "Facebook has finally found incendiary speech that it thinks needs to be moderated: any criticism of Facebook management: Facebook to Curb Internal Debate Over Sensitive Issues Amid Staff Discord: Mark Zuckerberg says employees shouldn't have to confront social issues in their day-to-day work unless they want to"
Several employees recently have posted memos internally that leaked outside the company criticizing its content policies. Some employees last month pressed Facebook’s leadership to review its handling of hate speech in India, after a Wall Street Journal article detailing what current and former Facebook employees said was a pattern of favoritism toward that country’s ruling party and Hindu hard-liners.

And a group of employees staged a virtual walkout in early June to protest Facebook’s decision to leave up a post from President Trump about social unrest that the employees said broke Facebook rules about inciting violence, prompting Mr. Zuckerberg to defend the decision in a highly charged employee meeting.

Other companies also have struggled to balance employee freedoms with a desire to limit internal discord and division—especially in Silicon Valley, where companies have long encouraged more freewheeling company cultures. Alphabet Inc.’s Google last year issued guidelines limiting employee discussion of politics and other topics, saying staffers should avoid spending time hotly debating matters unrelated to their jobs.

Internal tensions have been heightened for some companies during the coronavirus pandemic, when many employees are communicating primarily using messaging systems such as Slack that can facilitate simple conversations but also become a forum for grievances and animosity.

Restrictions on internal discussion are likely to be especially sensitive at Facebook, which has billed itself as a platform for free expression—and where Mr. Zuckerberg’s reluctance to put constraints on discussion of controversial topics by users has been a source of discontent among some staffers.
Hate Speech on Facebook Is Pushing Ethiopia Dangerously Close to a Genocide - "Ethnic violence set off by the assassination of a popular singer has been supercharged by hate speech and incitements shared widely on the platform."

More than 30 killed in militia attacks in western Ethiopia
The attacks, whose victims included women and children, happened on Sept. 6-13, said Desalegn Chane, a senior member of new political party the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA).

“Farmers and members of their families were kidnapped (and) brought to an elementary school in the area where they were handcuffed and shot one by one,” Desalegn said...

Sitotaw Aweke, a farmer and businessman, said he was told by survivors that his whole family had been killed in an attack while he was at the market buying clothes for his three children for Ethiopia’s new year, which is celebrated on Sept. 11.

“I couldn’t even bury them ... every time I look at the clothes I bought for them, I cry,” he told Reuters by telephone.
posted by kliuless at 9:22 PM on September 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

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