A Facebook loophole allows politicians around the world to fake support and criticize opponents

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Governments and politicians around the world are exploiting a loophole in how Facebook uses inauthentic activity to fake popular support and harass opponents.

A research of The Guardian Based on internal documents and the testimony of a former Facebook data scientist, Sophie Zhang, shows how the company selectively chooses to take action against this activity. Facebook is quickly moving towards coordinated campaigns to influence politics in rich countries such as the US, South Korea and Taiwan, while prioritizing or simply ignoring reports of similar activity in poorer countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico and much of Latin. America.

“There is a lot of damage being done to Facebook that is unresponsive because it is not sufficiently considered a PR risk to Facebook,” said Zhang. The Guardian“The costs are not borne by Facebook. It is carried by the wider world as a whole. “

The loophole Zhang identified involves using Pages to create fake supporters used by governments to appear popular and criticize opponents. While Facebook prohibits people from using more than one account, anyone can create multiple pages with similar results. Pages are most commonly used to represent businesses, charities, nonprofits, or other organizations, but can be easily modified to look like individual accounts.

One case using this loophole took place in Honduras, where administrators who created the Facebook page of the country’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, created hundreds of pages to like their own posts and give the impression of popular support. (Hernández’s election in 2017 was widely criticized Likewise, the ruling party in Azerbaijan, which has experienced years of authoritarian rule under President Ilham Aliyev, used dummy Pages to harass opposition politicians and criticize news stories from independent media. The video below from The Guardian shows how these operations work:

Zhang, who worked on Facebook’s integrity team to identify such fake activities, was fired by Facebook in September 2020 for poor performance. In a memo she shared on her last day, she described how she had found “multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to widely abuse our platform to deceive their own citizens.”

When Zhang reported such networks of fake pages to her managers, Facebook’s response was inconsistent. The company was slow to respond to some reports (it took “almost a year” to get it Honduras network and 14 months every Azerbaijan campaign, says The Guardian) and ignored others Zhang found, for example in Bolivia and Albania.

As Facebook’s vice president of integrity Guy Rosen told Zhang in 2019 after complaining of slow responses, “We have literally hundreds or thousands of abuses (job security on integrity huh!) […] Therefore, we have to start from the end (top countries, top priority areas, things that drive prevalence, etc.) and try to work our way down a bit. “

To speak out about Facebook’s inaction, Zhang turned down a $ 64,000 severance package from the company. In tweets this morning with the publication of The Guardian‘s investigation, Zhang said, “I joined FB because I had naively hoped to fix the business from the inside out. I come forward because I failed. “

In a statement to The Guardian, Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said, “We fundamentally disagree with Ms. Zhang’s characterization of our priorities and efforts to eradicate abuse on our platform. We aggressively pursue abuse around the world and have specialized teams dedicated to this work. ”

Bourgeois says Facebook has “broken down more than 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior” and that “combating coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority.” The company has not disputed the facts about Zhang’s time at Facebook.