Sophie Zhang knows all too well the influence Facebook can wield over a society. As a data scientist working at the tech giant, she saw up close the social media platform being exploited to undermine political systems around the world, including India. So, in 2020, she wrote a 6,600-word memo, laying out damning details of “Facebook’s failures”.
Much of what she wrote related to what Facebook calls inauthentic behaviour – fake account activity meant to boost popularity. In Honduras, she said, the president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, used thousands of fake accounts to amplify his far-right agenda. In Azerbaijan, she said, the ruling party was wielding Facebook as a bludgeon to harass the opposition. And in India, she said she had found “a politically-sophisticated network…working to influence” the Delhi elections in February 2020.
None of these discoveries presumably pleased Facebook. She was told by the bosses to steer clear of political work and focus instead on her job description of tracking inauthentic likes and shares. When she didn’t, Facebook fired her. Zhang turned down a $64,000 severance package from the company so she could bypass a non-disparagement agreement.
In April, she went public with her account. To The Guardian she provided a trove of documents that detailed how Facebook lets “fake engagement distort global politics”. In…