'Democracy can’t rest on a bed of lies, need to hold Facebook to account'
Former Facebook employee Sophie Zhang, who earlier exposed the company’s partisan policy in removing inauthentic accounts from the social media platform ahead of the 2020 Delhi elections, said that the only way to ensure transparency on part of the company was to put pressure on it to ensure fair treatment for people across the spectrum.
Zhang is among several former Facebook employees and contractors who have said that the company’s policies and management are leading to harm. Earlier this month, Frances Haugen sent a complaint to the US Securities and Exchange Commission citing internal documents that back some of these allegations.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, Zhang said that democracy can not rest on a bed of lies. “The only way to ensure that Facebook treats everyone well, and fairly, is to put pressure on the country. Citizens of India need to make their voice heard if they feel content is been censored in a biased manner, in favour of a particular political party,” she said.
Zhang in April revealed that Facebook had planned to take down a series of fake accounts ahead of the Delhi elections, but stopped when it realized a BJP politician was behind one such network. “While two Congress, one Aadmi Party and one Bharatiya Janata Party-linked IT cell-style networks were actioned, one was spared despite being repeatedly flagged,” she said.
She added that a network of 50-60 accounts run by BJP Lok Sabha MP personally was identified, but despite repeated concerns being raised, the network was never removed. “There was one Aam Aadmi Party-related network, which curiously was also linked to a different cell supporting the Congress in a different state,” she said. “These inauthentic accounts were removed, then two Congress related networks were stopped and one BJP.”
The Congress and the AAP did not respond to requests for seeking a comment. Amit Malviya, the BJP’s in-charge for the National Information Technology department, could not be reached despite repeated attempts.
Zhang said such networks of fake accounts works to create automatic content, likes, comments and posts in large numbers to promote a particular political party or individual. “For example, around the Delhi election, many accounts emerged that said we had earlier voted for Narendra Modi, but would now vote for Kejrwal,” she said. “These were bad actors and not actual people.”
To be sure, she said that there was no way of being certain that these networks were being run by the political parties. “But in case of the BJP MP, it was obvious that the network was being operated from his house, and was being personally done.” Zhang declined to disclose the name of the politician.
This, however, is not the first time Facebook has been accused of not censoring political content. Last year, the social media firm’s public policy head Ankhi Das had to step down over allegations that Facebook refused to action “hate-speech” by a BJP politician.
According to Zhang, in the United States, the people who take decisions for the direction of the company, are the same ones that are responsible for keeping those in power happy. “Political interference as such has always been a part of the company decision making,” she said. “Refusal to take action against the BJP is part of the pattern, its what the company does, we can’t blame individuals for it.”