FB took political manipulation lightly, reveals leaked memo by former employee

Agencies
September 15, 2020

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Washington, Sept 15: Facebook has been accused of ignoring fake accounts undermining political affairs around the world, according to a memo by a former employee of the social networking giant shared with BuzzFeed News.

In the 6,600-word memo, former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang wrote that she found evidence of coordinated campaigns to boost or hinder political candidates or outcomes in India and other countries like Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

"I've found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions," she wrote in the memo, as reported by BuzzFeed News on Monday.

"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," according to the memo that details her her experiences of working with the social networking giant over the past two-and-a-half years.

Zhang said in the memo that in countries like Azerbaijan and Honduras, heads of government and political parties made use of fake accounts or misrepresented themselves to sway public opinion.

Giving an example of how slow Facebook was in acting against global political manipulation, she said that it took Facebook's leaders nine months to act on a coordinated campaign "that used thousands of inauthentic assets to boost President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras on a massive scale to mislead the Honduran people."

Her LinkedIn profile said she "worked as the data scientist for the Facebook Site Integrity fake engagement team" and dealt with "bots influencing elections and the like".

"I know that I have blood on my hands by now," Zhang wrote.

However, giving a reference to her work related to India, the memo detailed that she worked to remove "a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence" the Delhi Assembly election that took place in February.

Facebook did not reveal the detection of such a a network or that it had taken it down, according to the report.

"We've built specialized 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 behavior," Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois was quoted as saying in a statement.

"It's highly involved work that these teams do as their full-time remit. Working against coordinated inauthentic behaviour is our priority, but we're also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. We investigate each issue carefully, including those that Ms. Zhang raises, before we take action or go out and make claims publicly as a company."

These revelations come barely a month after a Wall Street Journal report on August 14 said that the top leadership at Facebook's India office refused to apply the company's own rules to politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), despite clear violations of Facebook's policies against incitement to violence, hate speech, and misinformation.

Facebook India's public policy head Ankhi Das reportedly "told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi's party would damage the company's business prospects in the country."

Following the report, the opposition Congress Party raised the issue of what it calls "unholy nexus" of the ruling BJP with Facebook and WhatsApp.

On August 18, the Congress Party wrote a letter to Facebook Inc expressing concern and asking them to acknowledge the issue and take corrective action. Congress had raised alarm over "interference in India's internal affairs by a foreign company".

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News Network
October 30,2020

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San Francisco, Oct 30: Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday warned of the potential for civil unrest as votes are tallied in a US election that will be “a test” for the social network.

Zuckerberg expressed his concern while describing safeguards against misinformation and voter suppression at the leading social network that are intended to avoid the kinds of deception and abuse that played out four years ago.

“I’m worried that with our nation so divided and election results potentially taking days or weeks to be finalized there is a risk of civil unrest,” said Zuckerberg, who had also been grilled during a session on Capitol Hill earlier this week.

“Given this, companies like ours need to go well beyond what we’ve done before.”

Confusion early this week over political ads at Facebook marred the onset of what was supposed to be a cooling-off period ahead of the US presidential election November 3.

Rival parties complained Facebook was undermining campaign efforts after blunders arose around a ban on new paid political ads being published in the week before Election Day.

“We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns,” Facebook product manager Rob Leathern said in a tweet when the ban kicked in Tuesday.

Political ad publishers can sidestep the ban by getting the advertisements loaded into Facebook prior to the deadline, and then disseminating them to a wider audience later.

California-based Facebook has tightened its rules on political advertising ahead of the 2020 election in other ways too, including prohibiting attempts to undermine the electoral process.

In the Facebook paid posts library — a list viewable by the public — for President Donald Trump’s campaign, what appeared to be a victory ad is already visible.

And on Tuesday, senior media advisor for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, Megan Clasen, tweeted a screen capture of a Trump Facebook ad showing a picture of the president and the message “Election Day Is Today.”

But the former vice president’s campaign had been told by Facebook they could not launch ads saying election day was “today” or even “tomorrow,” Clasen said in the tweet.

Democratic political strategist Eric Reif said on Twitter that he and others were working to have ads restored that had been mistakenly removed by Facebook.

“While next week will be a test for Facebook, I am proud of the work we have done here,” Zuckerberg said.

“I also know that our work doesn’t stop after November 3rd,” Zuckerberg said.

“So we will keep anticipating new threats, evolving our approach and fighting to protect the integrity of the democratic process and the right of people to make their voices heard around the world.”

Facebook quarterly profit jumps to $7.8 billion

Facebook’s profit jumped 29 percent to $7.8 billion in the recently ended quarter as the social network reported on Thursday, citing a rebounding in the online ad market.

Revenue in the quarter climbed to $21.2 billion as Facebook continued to benefit from people relying on the internet to stay connected while staying safe from the pandemic, the company said.

“We had a strong quarter as people and businesses continue to rely on our services to stay connected and create economic opportunity during these tough times,” said Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

However, user growth in North America could decline as lives return to more normal patterns.

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News Network
October 23,2020

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Nashville, Oct 23: US President Donald Trump on Thursday described the air in India and China as "filthy" as he denounced Democratic rival Joe Biden's plans to tackle climate change.

At their second and final presidential debate, Trump renewed his criticism that action on climate change was unfair to the United States.

"Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia, look at India -- it's filthy. The air is filthy," Trump said at the debate in Nashville.

Trump charged that Biden's climate plan was an "economic disaster" for oil states such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Biden said that climate change is "an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it."

"We're going to pass the point of no return within the next eight to 10 years," he said.

The planet has already warmed by around one degree Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, enough to boost the intensity of deadly heat waves, droughts and tropical storms.

Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, which aims to cap global warming "well below" two degrees Celsius.

Trump's remarks come days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper visit New Delhi for talks on building the growing US-India partnership.

At the first presidential debate, Trump also spoke critically of India, questioning its coronavirus data amid criticism of Trump's handling of the pandemic.

Biden said this in the opening remarks of the showdown that comes just 12 days before the election.

"The President still has no comprehensive plan," Biden added.

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News Network
October 28,2020

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Philadelphia, Oct 28: The second day of protests in Philadelphia turned violent on Tuesday as protesters clashed with the police, ransacked stores and attacked a reporter covering the unrest, following the killing of a black man on Monday.

Journalists covering some of the lootings have described chaotic scenes they said appeared to be void of any police coverage, reported Fox News.

The police took to Twitter late Tuesday to announce there were about 1,000 looters in the area of Castor and Aramingo streets alone.

According to Fox News, videos showed stores with items strewn in aisles and looters carrying out kitchen appliances and other items. Many stores were boarded up, but crowds still managed to break through windows.

Furthermore, Elijah Schaffer, a reporter, who was covering the looting at a store called Five Below, was reportedly seen on video getting pummeled inside a store by a group of protesters.

"I'm going to go to the hospital, I think, to get stitches because it is just absolutely painful. But this is what's happening in the current state over the killing of Walter Wallace," he said in a video posted on Twitter.

The Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management asked residents from certain neighbourhoods to remain indoors due to the "widespread demonstrations that have turned violent with looting."

The city has been gripped with gripped by violence after police officers shot and killed a 27-year-old Black man a day earlier who they said refused to drop his knife as he "advanced towards" them.

The man was identified as Walter Wallace Jr. A part of the incident was caught on video.

According to Fox News, the police and city officials issued swift statements following the incident and promised an investigation, but their assurances did little to assuage many in the city who see the shooting as another example of a Black man being killed by police when they say the situation could have been diffused.

The United States has seen widespread protests against killings of black people this year.

The 'Black Lives Matter' movement had gained momentum after the death of an African-American man named George Floyd in May this year, following a police officer, later identified as Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on Floyd's neck as suggested by the viral videos.

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