I Was There When: Fb build earnings over safety thumbnail

Final month, the main source for the Wall Avenue Journal’s Fb Recordsdata, published her identification in an episode of 60 Minutes. Frances Haugen, a delicate product manager on the firm, says she got here forward after she saw Fb’s management over and over prioritize income over safety. She then seemed before lawmakers in the US and the UK to discuss what she’d discovered right thru her time on the firm.

However Haugen was no longer the first Fb whistleblower to lift the horror over the firm’s inability—or unwillingness— to address extreme problems triggered by the platform’s algorithms. In 2020 we discovered about Sophie Zhang, who had been formally employed as a low-level recordsdata scientist on the firm. When she stop, her blockbuster, 8,000 discover exit memo memo published that she’d identified dozens of worldwide locations, including India, Mexico, Afghanistan, and South Korea, where unsuitable accounts and likes were permitting politicians to lie to the final public and in finding vitality. It also published how diminutive the firm had performed to mitigate the discipline, despite Zhang’s repeated efforts to raise it to the attention of management.

In primarily the most unique episode of I Was There When, a brand unique oral history project from the In Machines We Have confidence podcast, we be in contact to Zhang about her efforts.


This episode was produced by Jennifer Robust, Anthony Green and Emma Cillekens. It’s edited by Michael Reilly and Mat Honan. It’s blended by Garret Lang, with sound create and music by Jacob Gorski.

Fleshy transcript:


SOT: Frances Haugen: During my time at Fb, I got here to grasp a devastating reality. Practically no person outdoor of Fb knows what happens inside of Fb. 

Jennifer: Frances Haugen is a delicate product manager at Fb. She’s filed complaints with federal legislation enforcement claiming the social media broad’s management has over and over build income over safety.

SOT: Frances Haugen: The firm intentionally hides a must grasp recordsdata from the final public, from the U.S. executive, and from governments around the arena. 

Jennifer: Her complaints got here with a trove of documents that Haugen gathered before quitting… in an strive to masks the firm had willfully chosen no longer to repair the issues on its platform.

Among them… that algorithms like the one on the assist of your Fb newsfeed amplify hate, misinformation and political unrest. 

And she or he’s no longer the biggest whistleblower accusing the firm of turning a blind peer to disinformation campaigns on the platform. 

Sophie Zhang labored as a Fb recordsdata scientist… and up till she was fired, she consumed herself with finding and taking down unsuitable accounts, feedback and likes that were being dilapidated to sway elections globally. Her blockbuster exit memo was 8-thousand words… and it published correct how diminutive Fb had performed to mitigate the discipline. 

I’m Jennifer Robust, and here is I Was There When.

It’s an oral history project that contains the reports of how watershed moments in synthetic intelligence and computing came about… as told by the oldsters that witnessed them.

[Show ID]

Sophie Zhang: I am Sophie Zhang. At Fb I was an recordsdata scientist and I labored on the engagement team. By unsuitable I mean, as an illustration, unsuitable accounts, but additionally hacked accounts. And by engagement, I mean, likes, feedback, shares, et cetera. However in my spare time, when I started moonlighting in the space of finding inauthentic political job. Typically very delicate, inauthentic political job. I could presumably argue that this was also unsuitable engagement, but it was no longer what I was anticipated to work on. 

After I started to see into the intersections between unsuitable engagement and civic job, very rapid figured out results worldwide. I figured out results in, in Brazil, in India, in Indonesia, in many worldwide locations, but additionally in Honduras, comparatively comparatively in Honduras primarily relative to its size. And I was placing collectively a memoir for management on the discipline. I intended to consume a screenshot of the page of the vital recipient in Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, who after I regarded him up grew to alter into out to be the president of Honduras.

I was going to his page to consume a screenshot after they stopped, because I noticed something very queer since the oldsters that were, who were liking his page and commenting, many of them were no longer folks in any appreciate. They were pages pretending to be users. And so correct to step assist here, what are pages? What are users? Pages are a Fb feature intended for public figures, public organizations, and loads others. So as an illustration, MIT Tech Review has a Fb page. MIT Tech Review is no longer a particular person. The page is ran by every other particular person on Fb. 

And so the intent of how Fb pages are, is that they’re alleged to replicate public entities and a single user can administration many pages. So as an illustration, the the same administrator can administration the CNN page as effectively as CNN, Philippines, and CNN Europe, etcetera. However there was nothing combating a user from constructing hundreds of pages, giving them names and profile pictures like precise folks and having them act as precise folks. In actuality, it was more uncomplicated on their stay because they could presumably well comparatively without problems change between these pages without desiring to log in and log off on every occasion. 

Reasonably rapid realized that these unsuitable pages pretending to be users, there was hundreds of them in Honduras. And about a hundred of them were individually bustle by the page administrator of the president of Honduras. This was somebody who clearly had a foremost amount of trust on social media in the Honduran executive. And so that they were no longer even hiding the reality that they were the dispute of hundreds of unsuitable sources to manipulate their very have citizenry. 

And so from the start, I was very naive. I thought that, okay, I figured out this. These folks were dreary. We caught them. I would possibly hand them over to others. They’ll consume over it. I’m in a position to slash assist assist to my precise job and all the pieces can be honest. It was as a replace the start of a two year sisyphean ordeal, because what came about when I raised it was everyone agreed that this was repulsive. It was no longer controversial that this was spoiled. All people agreed that this must no longer be allowed, however the demand was, what can we manufacture about it? Elevate out we’ve the flexibility to behave on it? Is it inside of our policies to behave on it, et cetera. From the start, I spoke about it to everyone who regarded as if it could perhaps presumably tell to it. I spoke about it to Pages Integrity, to Groups Integrity. I talked about it to the civic integrity team. I attempted to in finding risk intelligence alive to. Lastly I was talking to everyone who would hear. I spoke to everyone up to and including vp Guy Rosen. In actuality it was like talking to the wind, like seeking to empty the ocean with a colander. Lastly I discovered that the correct formula to in finding results was commonly no longer by seeking to battle thru the correct channels, but by complaining publicly one day of the firm on Situation of commercial, which is truly Fb for the dilemma of job, and making Situation of commercial posts regarding the discipline that others on the firm could presumably uncover about. And a number of of them were for positive upset about it because this was no longer the kind of firm they thought they were working for and wanted to be working for. I own no longer know whether or no longer it was by this formula, by others, but at last Fb at last took down the operation of the Hondurian executive, which was world recordsdata. 

Just a few weeks later, the operation got here assist the dispute of a distinct methodology. After we did in finding the consume down in Honduras, I was peaceable naive and idealistic firstly. I thought, okay, before this everyone was asserting we did no longer grasp a precedent, we did no longer know what to manufacture, but now we manufacture grasp the precedent. Now we are in a position to claim, we’ve created this precedent of doing this. We can solve it in this methodology. And so after this I thought, okay, I’m in a position to ship them over the entire others that I figured out. They would consume care of it. They did no longer consume care of it. After I dilapidated the correct channels to ship them over, they went truly into a dusky box shredder where they were overlooked. 

In the 2d half of of 2019, I raised and flagged about three dozen extra networks of inauthentic political activities from Afghanistan to Albania, from Brazil, to Bolivia, from India to Indonesia. And so it took a whereas to establish out the ideal formula to primarily in finding results and in finding folks to primarily acknowledge. It depended on whether or no longer they were tied to politicians and eminent figures, because if something was tied to a political identify, it grew to alter into principal more challenging to consume it down. I would possibly present you with a quantity now that I did no longer leave after they first saw it. Because Azerbaijan no doubt has no longer up to 3% of the arena’s population, principal smaller, its community was organising per chance 1,000,000 feedback every month. And this constituted something like 3% of all feedback by Pages on posts by loads of Pages worldwide, globally, civic or non-civic. 

However even when I caught the Azerbajiani executive pink-handed, it took higher than a year for the operation to be taken down. After I figured out that the Azerbaijan executive had situation up a broad toll farm of paid operatives to annoy the opposition in huge volumes. This was very clearly spoiled. It was very clearly tied to the Azerbajiani executive. And it was broad in scale. However once we took it down, I am positive someplace at Fb, there was a team that was very upset about why the numbers dropped for no reason that they could presumably well identify out. between my discovery and the consume down Azerbaijan had cracked down on the opposition, arrested unimproved opposition figures, and started a battle with Armenia. 

It grew to alter into increasingly stressful to work on the discipline. It is robust to, in my thought, to see what impact any of this had, but it rapid grew to alter into definite that it was tied to job in worldwide locations that were struggling because there was so principal going on. And I was the one individually making choices about what was foremost. It was truly entirely up to me what I selected to switch at extra, what I selected to prioritize and consume a see at to in finding attention for. And I selected no longer to prioritize Bolivia since it was objectively very puny and no longer very elegant. Effectively after the election, there had been mass protests that escalated into what has been called alternatively a coup d’etat or a preferred uprising that resulted in the tumble of the Bolivian executive. I do know that this have not got been individually my responsibility, but on the tip of the day, there was no person else who stepped up. And so I selected to manufacture it myself. And since I had build myself in this dilemma, it was truly up to myself, what was foremost adequate to focal point on, and I are searching to be definite. There had been always others who were, who were responsible of refine my findings and responsible of primarily taking it down on the tip.

I decided from the start that I would most productive be the prosecutor, truly, I would are attempting my biggest to by no scheme be relate, jury and executioner, because I already had too principal vitality in my fingers. I own no longer judge any individual wants to be in the dilemma of deciding if Albania is extra foremost than Azerbaijan or questions like that. Because they also masks in that book of accounts that were tied to supporting members of the Albanian executive. However what I masks in Azerbaijan was objectively worse by formula of size and scale. And so I knew I most productive had the political capital to very slowly push thru one after the other. And so I selected to focal point on Azerbaijan. It is peaceable going on in Albania. Albania had total elections earlier this year, and it was peaceable going on on the time. I mean, higher than two years after I found it, Fb peaceable hasn’t performed the rest.

And I’m in a position to most productive bellow regret profusely to the Albanian folks. I grasp no longer got been in a dilemma by which I wished to get was Albania or Azerbaijan extra foremost. I stand by my resolution because what they masks in Azerbaijan was objectively worse, but peaceable, no single particular person wants to be responsible of questions like this. There had been many recordsdata reports about how Fb is below-resourced in the space of integrity. I grasp no longer considered any recordsdata reports complaining that Fb has too diminutive sources in adverts advertising and marketing. And I judge that states volumes regarding the firm’s priorities on the tip.

What I figured out most advanced was in positive authoritarian worldwide locations. The democratic opposition was cashing in on employing and beautiful tactics. And I had primarily the most thought over these cases. However I peaceable took them down without hesitation because I believed very firmly that my allegiance was to the tips of democracy and the rule of thumb of legislation. And that fundamentally democracy can’t stand on a bed of lies. As a extraordinarily low level employee in my have spare time, without any oversight whatsoever was making choices individually, that directly affected national governments.

 It is a sturdy demand to acknowledge what I factor in must occur, because phase of it’s like, it be like asking whenever probabilities are you’ll presumably presumably type the sky any coloration, what coloration would you in finding it irresistible to be? Because it be a, it be a mostly theoretical demand and your acknowledge will have not any precise have not any precise own on the particular world.

I’m in a position to no longer type Designate alternate his suggestions anymore than they’ll type the sky pink overnight. Here’s up to the oldsters taking note of me, to folks like your self, because I’m in a position to no longer alternate the rest myself. I most productive grasp as principal vitality as others grant me. In the occasion you will need issues to alternate, you wants to be individually asking your representatives because indirectly here’s a discipline that is no longer skilled by about a single folks. Here’s the discipline by which the costs are borne by society, by democracy, by civic discourse as a entire. And as a firm, Fb has no incentive to repair this anymore than we anticipated Philip Morris to manufacture non addictive cigarettes.

Jennifer: I Was There When is an oral history project that contains the reports of participants which grasp witnessed or created breakthroughs in synthetic intelligence and computing. 

Elevate out you grasp got gotten a yarn to advise? Know somebody who does? Drop us an electronic mail at podcasts at expertise evaluation dot com.



Jennifer: This episode was produced by me with support from Anthony Green and Emma Cillekens. We’re edited by Niall Firth and Mat Honan. Our mix engineer is Garret Lang… and our theme music is by Jacob Gorski. 

Thanks for listening, I’m Jennifer Robust. 



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