Sophie Hang Ang worked as a Facebook data scientist for almost three years, until she was fired in 2020. In autumn: On his last day, he posted a 7,800-word memorandum on the company’s internal forum. Such farewell notes, if not length, are common practice for outgoing employees. In a memo published by Buzzfeed for the first time, he cites evidence that governments in countries like Azerbaijan and Honduras used fake accounts to influence society. Elsewhere, such as India և Ecuador, hang ang found systematic activity aimed at manipulating public opinion, although it was not clear who was behind it. According to him, Facebook did not take its findings seriously.
Hang priceless experience led to the final conclusion of the matter. “I have blood on my hands.”
Facebook has not disputed the facts of Zang’s story, but has tried to downplay its findings.
“We strongly disagree with Ms. Hang Ang’s description of our priorities and her efforts to eradicate abuse on our platform,” Facebook said in a statement. “As part of the fight against this type of abuse, we have specialized teams focused on this work; they have already seized more than 150 networks of systematic unauthorized behavior. “Half of them were internal networks operating in Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.”
This interview was edited for length and simplicity.
HAR: .- Why were you fired from Facebook?
ANSWER: I have reported on most of the work I have done to defend the election. This may sound like a lot to an ordinary person, but I was a very low-level employee at Facebook. Besides, this job was not my official job. I did it in my free time, of course, with the knowledge of leadership and tolerance. At first, the company supported it. But gradually they lost my patience. I was underperforming.
H. You wrote in your memo that you have blood on your hand. Why did you say that?
Answer. Was anything done, as far as I could tell, it was entirely a function of how much I shouted, how much I made noise?
I know that many of their decisions have had an impact in the countries in which they have worked. The United States is still deeply affected by what happened in 2016: for many countries like Honduras or Azerbaijan with Russian manipulation on Facebook, this is their own Russia. But this is not done by a foreign power, but by their government, even without hiding.
I tried my best to make decisions based on the information I had at the time. But I am, of course, only one person. Sometimes I expected something more than I needed. At this level of responsibility, your best is often not enough.
H. How did you get started?
Answer. When I joined the company, I, like many others, was deeply moved by Russia 2016. And I decided to start looking for coincidences between “political targets” of unrealistic activities. And I started to find a lot of results in a lot of places, especially in what we call the global south, in Honduras, in Brazil, in India.
Honduras caught my attention because it had so much (unreliable behavior) compared to the others. This is a very simple activity that we are talking about. Word bots. And then I realized that this was, in fact, a troll farm run very openly by an Honduran president’s employee. And it seemed extraordinarily scary.
HAR Then – What did you do then?
I talked about it inside. In fact, everyone agreed that it was bad. No one wanted to defend this type of activity, but people could not agree on whose business it was.
I was desperately trying to find someone who cared. I talked to my manager, their manager. I spoke with the threat intelligence team. I spoke with many integrity teams. It took almost a year for something to happen.
Question. You said that there is a priority list of countries. What happens to countries that are not on that list?
– It is not a difficult, fast rule. Facebook also makes deletions in small countries. But most of those removals are reactive, which I mean they come from outside groups. Tips from opposition groups, tips from NGOs, investigations of journalists, CIA reports, etc. complaining
H. Given Facebook’s resources, why can’t every country prioritize it?
The answer I saw on Facebook when I was there when these questions were asked was that even though Facebook has a ton of money, human resources are different. Even if you have unlimited money, you can not increase it by 10 times every night. Train time is needed to train people. Grow time needed to grow.
And he was ready to believe it for a while while I was there. But I think in retrospect, if they sincerely believed it was possible, they would take steps that are not. They will pay a lot of attention to keeping talent in good faith teams. And they would definitely never fire me.
Question. How are people still on Facebook trying to change this?
Answer. Like most employees, they are just ordinary people who want to do 9 to 6, want to go home at the end of the day, or go to bed.
There is also the bias of independent choice. If you think Facebook is evil, you probably will not join Facebook.
But there are many people who joined Facebook because they wanted to make it better. When I joined, I was far ahead of them. I do not think Facebook makes the world a better place. And I told them I wanted to fix it.
Q: Are there any concerns among employees about the company’s image?
Answer. I think over time, employees have become more pessimistic. But there is also a very strong isolation, perhaps paranoid about the mainstream press. People are skeptical about what the press says about the company.
I do not want to diminish the fact that Facebook has historically been very open. We had regular access to the CEO. As a very low-level employee, I was able to get involved in our discussions with the company vice president. But over time, that is likely to change for the better.
H. Who does the work you have just done?
– I do not know. I was the only person who took to the streets on my own to look for this behavior, not waiting for people to tell us something was going on. The reason it was so easy to find was that there are so few hanging fruits.
H. Facebook says it seizes a lot of illegal accounts, tried to deny your story.
– In other words, this is a very typical Facebook answer, by which I mean that they do not really answer the question. Suppose your spouse asks you: “Did you wash the dishes yesterday?” And you answer by saying: “I always give priority to cleaning the dishes. I definitely clean the dishes. I do not want dirty dishes. ” It’s an answer that may make sense, but it doesn’t really answer that question.