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Politically-sophisticated Network Tried to Influence 2020 Delhi Polls, Claims Sacked Facebook Employee

Delhi CM and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal hugs party leader Sanjay Singh during his address to supporters after party's victory in the State Assembly polls, at AAP office in New Delhi on Februrary 11, 2020. (PTI/File  Photo)

Delhi CM and AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal hugs party leader Sanjay Singh during his address to supporters after party's victory in the State Assembly polls, at AAP office in New Delhi on Februrary 11, 2020. (PTI/File Photo)

Zhang said she worked to remove 'a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence' the Delhi Assembly polls that were held on February 8.

A former employee of Facebook has claimed that the social media giant ignored or was slow to deal with fake accounts that influenced elections around the world, including India.

In a 6,600-word internal memo, written by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang on her last day at the company, and obtained by BuzzFeed News, Zhang reveals how the platform was used to sway public opinion and manipulate elections.

“In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry … I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I’ve lost count,” she said.

Zhang, who was fired from Facebook recently, said she worked to remove “a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence” the Delhi Assembly polls that were held on February 8.

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On August 14, an article published in The Wall Street Journal had claimed that Ankhi Das, Public policy director of Facebook India, South and Central Asia, was opposed to applying Facebook’s hate speech rules to four individuals and groups with links to the BJP. The article stated that despite being internally flagged for promoting violence, she was against applying the rules due to business imperatives.

The article stated that Das had told staff members that punishing BJP politicians for these violations would be detrimental to the “company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users.”

Responding to Zhang’s accusations, Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois said in a statement: “We’ve built specialised teams, working with leading experts, to stop bad actors from abusing our systems, resulting in the removal of more than 100 networks for coordinated inauthentic behaviour.”

A Delhi Assembly panel has now issued a notice to Facebook India vice president and managing director Ajit Mohan, asking him to appear before it on Tuesday in connection with complaints about the social media giant’s alleged deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content in the country.

“The assembly"s committee had received multiple complaints addressed to its Chairman Raghav Chadha against the officials concerned of Facebook for their alleged deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content in India for vested reasons," a statement by Delhi Assembly panel said.

first published:September 15, 2020, 11:10 IST