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 lengthy memo to the company’s internal forum — a common practice for departing employees.
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.
“I was hired in January of 2018, I was a data scientist, a quite low level data scientist. I was literally just one level above a new hire straight out of college. And I worked on the fake engagement team and I was at Facebook until it was fired in September of 2020.”
“Essentially, in my spare time, I went out and looked for the sort of activity being used for political manipulation and insight and and I found some results that were quite concerning. I caught two (unintelligible) red handed the government of Honduras and the government of Azerbaijan. And when I first found this, I was very naive. I thought that I’ll hand it over to the right people, they’ll take care of it. I can get back to my actual job. Instead it was the start of a Sisyphean ordeal.”
Facebook has not disputed the facts of Zhang’s story but has sought to diminish the importance of her findings.
“We fundamentally disagree with Ms. Zhang’s characterization of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform,” Facebook said in a statement.