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Facebook whistleblowwer fake accounts – La Stampa

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Facebook whistleblowwer fake accounts – La Stampa

Fake accounts on Facebook are a problem with which the social network has been battling for some time. The new Community Standards Enforcement Report di Meta, which documents the violations intercepted on its social networkssays that fake profiles blocked by Facebook fell – slightly – between January and March 2022. But they continue to be many: 1.6 billion (in the last quarter of 2021 they were 1.7 billion).

On the other hand – +2.5 million compared to the last quarter of 2021, due to a bug – the attempts (also blocked) to use the platform for violent purposes, including terrorism, by organizations and individuals. And it increases the spamor at least the illegal content removed from Facebook: they were 1.8 billion in the first quarter of 2022 (+0.6 billion compared to the last quarter of 2021).

Attempts to create fake accounts blocked by Facebook from 2018 to present.  The peak - more than 2 billion - at the end of December 2018

Attempts to create fake accounts blocked by Facebook from 2018 to present. The peak – more than 2 billion – at the end of December 2018

However much the social network may try to suppress fake accounts and pages, some of these still manage to pass the checks and procedures designed to make social media – Meta writes – “safer and more inclusive”. When this has happened, in the past, the company led by Mark Zuckerberg has not always responded in the best way.

In the past fifteen years, only two employees have openly ‘betrayed’ Facebook, denouncing the problems of the social network and the risks for democracies and the health of its users. The first, just a year ago, was Sophie Zhang. She has no doubts: “Since I spoke in public, Facebook has changed. But for the worse

For about three years Zhang worked for Facebookdiscovering “blatant attempts by multiple governments to deceive their citizens through the platform“When he informed his superiors, the young analyst she was left alone. Facebook fired Sophie Zhang in September 2020 “for poor performance”. The next day, at 8 in the morning, Mark Zuckerberg dealt with the first whistleblower on his social network.

Sophie Zhang, Facebook's first whistleblower

Sophie Zhang, Facebook's first whistleblower

Sophie Zhang, Facebook’s first whistleblower

What role did he have in Facebook?
“I was a data scientist. Mine was a very low level.”

When did you first understand that the platform could seriously influence the destinies of governments?
“As of July 2018. I had been working on Facebook for about six months. I realized that there were fake Facebook Pages passed off as real personal accounts of Honduran citizens. These Pages were used to increase the popularity of the president, who was Juan at the time. Orlando Hernández. The team that ran the president’s social page also managed hundreds of fake accounts. All of this was done in a blatant way. “

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What happened when he reported what he had discovered to his superiors?
“The general attitude was one of condemnation: they found what was happening wrong. But they wondered if it was a priority problem over the rest and, above all, if it was not the case to act with caution, given that they were accounts managed by a national government “.

But the responsibility was clear.
“It was as if the police, investigating a murder, had found the killer’s name and fingerprints directly by analyzing the victim’s blood.”

Has Facebook taken action?
“Not immediately: he canceled that network just a year later, in July 2019”.


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And why do you think it took so long?
“Facebook did not have a direct interest in caring about Honduras, a small and poor country. Facebook is a company, its goal is to make money. It is not much different from what other companies do: we do not ask Philip Morris to solve addiction to tobacco, for example, nor at ExxonMobil to tackle the climate crisis. The reason Facebook is interested in concepts like democracy is because Mark Zuckerberg is a human being and needs to sleep at night. And also because the Social damage caused by Facebook could generate negative media coverage. And this would impact the company’s revenues. “


Did the investigations you conducted require special training?

“I was not trained, I had no experience and I was not a super genius.”

The day after being fired from Facebook, she wrote that she felt she had “bloody hands”.
“In December 2019 I found two cases of Facebook manipulation by national governments: in Azerbaijan and Albania. The most serious problem seemed to be in Azerbaijan and so I left Albania to another team. Last year an Albanian journalist he contacted me: he had discovered that the abuses continued. Facebook, in two years, had done nothing. I apologized to the Albanian people. But I was like a doctor called to choose between several lives: he will have bloody hands but without him he would be got worse “.

In the course of your investigations, did you also come across abuses by Italian politicians?
“Yes, in 2019, at a time when it was thought that the country was very close to new elections. I will not say the name of the politician, because the suspicious activity was minimal, it concerned only one or two dozen fake accounts”.

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Has Facebook changed since you and Frances Haugen revealed the platform’s problems?

“They have become much more closed, severely limited internal discussions regarding the platform and made it much more difficult for employees to consult documents and information they haven’t worked on directly. This is technically a change, but not for the better.”

Was Zuckerberg right in deleting Trump from Facebook?
“It makes sense, just as it makes sense that social media today remove Russia Today after the invasion of Ukraine.”

What role do you think social media is playing in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
“I think they play a largely third role. This is a war of bullets, not words. And the real impact of social media lies in the past. Looking back now, it is no coincidence that Putin has decided to crack down on Navalny. And that the real impact of social media lies in the past. Lukashenko took steps to arrest his opposition before the conflict. The road to Kiev passed through Minsk “.

Do you believe, or have you ever believed, that Facebook could make the world better?
“I didn’t believe it. When I did the interview, I said I wanted to be a part of it to help solve his problems.”

What is your occupation now?
“I don’t have a job or I’m looking for one. I take care of my cats and do interviews.”

Someone may be wondering how he survives without a salary.
“Facebook was paying me about $ 200,000 a year. I thought it was a lot but the people who work in the tech sector are used to this amount. So technically it can be said that I was able to become a whistleblower because Facebook paid me.”

Pictured: Sophie Zhang. You have discovered the political use of fake accounts; unheard, she became Facebook’s first whistleblower.

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