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She risked everything to expose Facebook. Now she’s telling her story.
by Karen Hao
Posted September 21, 2021
The world first learned of Sophie Zhang in September 2020, when BuzzFeed News obtained and published highlights from an abridged version of her nearly 8,000-word exit memo from Facebook.
Before she was fired, Zhang was officially employed as a low-level data scientist at the company. But she had become consumed by a task she deemed more important: finding and taking down fake accounts and likes that were being used to sway elections globally.
Her memo revealed that she’d identified dozens of countries, including India, Mexico, Afghanistan, and South Korea, where this type of abuse was enabling politicians to mislead the public and gain power. It also revealed how little the company had done to mitigate the problem, despite Zhang’s repeated efforts to bring it to the attention of leadership.
Her story reveals that it is really pure luck that we now know so much about how Facebook enables election interference globally. Zhang was not just the only person fighting this form of political manipulation; it wasn’t even her job. She had discovered the problem because of a unique confluence of skills and passion, and then taken it upon herself, driven by an extraordinary sense of moral responsibility. To regulators around the world considering how to rein in the company, this should be a wake-up call. More…