Tirana, Albania | 13 April 2021 (Tirana Echo) – A special investigation by UK based daily The Guardian has exposed the breadth of state-backed manipulation of Facebook, which the paper claims “has repeatedly allowed world leaders and politicians to use its platform to deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing.”
Several operating ‘networks’ linked to autocratic governments in developing nations such as Albania, Bolivia, Tunisia, Mongolia or Iraq were ignored or simply left uninvestigated, exposing a reluctance by Facebook to carry out any enforcement actions in punishment of fake accounts serving powerful politicians across the world.
The investigation reveals how political leaders and governments have been exploiting Facebook’s loopholes and the negligence of its staff to brainwash their local populations by using thousands of fake profiles in order to boost their public standing.
What was once thought to be a social network platform helping democracy, is now an arena of manipulative players who are constantly distorting political discourse across the developed and developing world.
Inauthentic behavior has been detected and not properly dealt with in countries like Albania, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, the Philippines, Afghanistan, South Korea, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iraq, Tunisia, Turkey, Taiwan, Paraguay, El Salvador, India, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ukraine, Poland and Mongolia.
According to The Guardian, Facebook acted quickly to address political manipulation affecting countries such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Poland, while moving slowly or not at all on cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico, and much of Latin America.
But in other cases, the company took a relatively long time to shut down such fraudulent networks, while towards others it has simply failed to act.
According to the Guardian investigation, a threat intelligence investigator within Facebook found evidence that an Albanian network, which was mass-producing inauthentic comments, was linked to individuals in government, then dropped the case.
As Albania heads to general elections on April 25th and the socialist government of PM Edi Rama is seeking a third term in power, amid accusations of autocratic and corruption tendencies by the opposition parties, such distorted political discourse online, coupled with a global pandemic which limits public gatherings, becomes a game-changer.
Like in the case of Albania, The Guardian has seen extensive internal documentation showing how Facebook handled more than 30 cases across 25 countries of politically manipulative behavior that was proactively detected by company staff.
“There is a lot of harm being done on Facebook that is not being responded to because it is not considered enough of a PR risk to Facebook,” said Sophie Zhang for The Guardian, a former data scientist at Facebook who worked within the company’s “integrity” organization to combat inauthentic behavior. “The cost isn’t borne by Facebook. It’s borne by the broader world as a whole.”
Facebook pledged to combat state-backed political manipulation of its platform after the historic fiasco of the 2016 US election, when Russian agents used inauthentic Facebook accounts to deceive and divide American voters.
But the company has repeatedly failed to take timely action when presented with evidence of rampant manipulation and abuse of its tools by political leaders around the world.
Ultimately, Zhang argues that Facebook is too reluctant to punish powerful politicians, and that when it does act, the consequences are too lenient.
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