Attempts were made to influence Delhi elections, alleges Facebook's ex-employee

Shalini Ojha
·3-min read

Attempts were made to influence Delhi elections, alleges Facebook
Attempts were made to influence Delhi elections, alleges Facebook

16 Sep 2020: Attempts were made to influence Delhi elections, alleges Facebook's ex-employee

Social media giant Facebook, already facing scrutiny in India for allegedly favoring the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has now landed in a fresh soup after a former employee alleged that attempts were made to influence the 2020 Delhi Elections.

The ex-staffer Sophie Zhang, penned an explosive 6,600-worded memo to shed light on how Facebook played a part in elections.

Here are more details.

What happened: Zhang denied hefty severance package to avoid signing agreement

Zhang, who worked as a data scientist at the company, reportedly denied a $64,000 severance package to not sign a non-disparagement agreement.

In the memo, which BuzzFeed published late on Monday, Zhang claimed political parties in Azerbaijan, Honduras, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and India misused Facebook for political gains.

The social media giant didn't curtail their actions, Zhang hinted.

Statement: Worked to bring down network which tried influencing polls: Zhang

About Delhi polls, that were held in February, and reinstated Aam Aadmi Party's Arvind Kejriwal to the Chief Minister's chair for a third consecutive time, Zhang wrote, "I worked through sickness to take down a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence the election."

She, however, fell short of mentioning who was behind this said network.

Fact: According to Zhang, Facebook was abused to mislead citizens

"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, and caused international news on multiple occasions," she wrote.

Allegations: Facebook seldom paid earnest interest to such issues, Zhang alleged

Zhang said there were so many violations worldwide, that she decided on her own which cases to probe, "to file tasks, and escalate for prioritization afterward."

She added that Facebook made it a habit of taking such matters seriously, only after reputation was threatened.

"It's why I've seen priorities of escalations shoot up when others start threatening to go to the press," she said.

Reactions: After report, BJP and AAP traded tit-for-tat allegations

Sharing the BuzzFeed article on his official Twitter page, BJP's social media head wrote, "Facebook never publicly disclosed this network or that it had taken it down. AAP won," implying that Kejriwal's party reaped benefits from the skewed process.

Countering Malviya, AAP's Ankit Lal said his party wasn't working with Facebook while adding that it's well known that the platform favors BJP.

What happened: AAP summoned Facebook, fumed after social media giant missed meeting

Notably, AAP is already fuming after Facebook decided to miss a meeting of the "Peace and Harmony" committee.

While the committee was waiting for Facebook at Delhi Assembly, the company said, "The regulation of intermediaries like Facebook fall within exclusive authority of the Union of India. Given that the matters are under consideration by Parliament, we object to the Notice and request you recall it."

Response: How can Facebook question our domain, asked the committee

MLA Raghav Chadha, who heads the committee, said Facebook was summoned over allegations that it fanned flames during violence.

Spurned by Facebook, the committee said, "This is an issue of Delhi, how can Facebook say that it's not the domain of this committee? Facebook's statement that Parliament is seized of the matter is untenable."

Chadha said Facebook executives will be issued fresh summons.

Looking back: Facing accusations of bias, Facebook banned BJP MLA

Last month, a report in the Wall Street Journal claimed Facebook ignored hate speech by BJP leaders, fearing a reprisal that actions against the ruling party would dampen its business prospects in India.

After much criticism, Facebook banned BJP MLA from Telangana, Raja Singh, from its platform.

The platform also appeared before a parliamentary panel and was asked about its alleged biases.