A top Facebook exec told a whistleblower her concerns about widespread state-sponsored disinformation meant she had ‘job security’

facebook ceo mark zuckerberg
In this April 11, 2018, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pauses while testifying before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Facebook let dictators generate fake support despite employees’ warnings, the Guardian reported.
  • Whistleblower Sophie Zhang repeatedly raised concerns to integrity chief Guy Rosen and other execs.
  • But Rosen said the amount of disinformation on the platform meant “job security” for Zhang.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook allowed authoritarian governments to use its platform to generate fake support for their regimes for months despite warnings from employees about the disinformation campaigns, an investigation from the Guardian revealed this week.

A loophole in Facebook’s policies allowed government officials around the world to create unlimited amounts of fake “pages” which, unlike user profiles, don’t have to correspond to an actual person – but could still like, comment on, react to, and share content, the Guardian reported.

That loophole let governments spin up armies of what looked like real users who could then artificially generate support for and amplify pro-government content, what the Guardian called “the digital equivalent of bussing in a fake crowd for a speech.”

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist on the company’s integrity team, blew the whistle dozens of times about the loophole, warning Facebook executives including vice president of integrity Guy Rosen, airing many of her concerns, according to the Guardian.

BuzzFeed News previously reported on Zhang’s “badge post” – a tradition where departing employees post an internal farewell message to coworkers.

But one of Zhang’s biggest concerns was that Facebook wasn’t paying enough attention to coordinated disinformation networks in authoritarian countries, such as Honduras and Azerbaijan, where elections are less free and more susceptible to state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, the Guardian’s investigation revealed.

Facebook waited 344 days after employees sounded the alarm to take action in the Honduras case, and 426 days in Azerbaijan, and in some cases took no action, the investigation found.

But when she raised her concerns about Facebook’s inaction in Honduras to Rosen, he dismissed her concerns.

“We have literally hundreds or thousands of types of abuse (job security on integrity eh!),” Rosen told Zhang in April 2019, according the Guardian, adding: “That’s why we should start from the end (top countries, top priority areas, things driving prevalence, etc) and try to somewhat work our way down.”

Rosen told Zhang he agreed with Facebook’s priority areas, which included the US, Western Europe, and “foreign adversaries such as Russia/Iran/etc,” according to the Guardian.

“We fundamentally disagree with Ms. Zhang’s characterization of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform. We aggressively go after abuse around the world and have specialized teams focused on this work,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told Insider in a statement.

“As a result, we’ve already taken down more than 100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior. Around half of them were domestic networks that operated in countries around the world, including those in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and in the Asia Pacific region. Combatting coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority. We’re also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. We investigate each issue before taking action or making public claims about them,” she said.

However, Facebook didn’t dispute any of Zhang’s factual claims in the Guardian investigation.

Facebook pledged to tackle election-related misinformation and disinformation after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russia’s use of its platform to sow division among American voters ahead of the 2016 US presidential elections.

“Since then, we’ve focused on improving our defenses and making it much harder for anyone to interfere in elections,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a 2018 op-ed for The Washington Post.

“Key to our efforts has been finding and removing fake accounts – the source of much of the abuse, including misinformation. Bad actors can use computers to generate these in bulk. But with advances in artificial intelligence, we now block millions of fake accounts every day as they are being created so they can’t be used to spread spam, false news or inauthentic ads,” Zuckerberg added.

But the Guardian’s investigation showed Facebook is still delaying or refusing to take action against state-sponsored disinformation campaigns in dozens of countries, with thousands of fake accounts, creating hundreds of thousands of fake likes.

And even in supposedly high-priority areas, like the US, researchers have found Facebook has allowed key disinformation sources to expand their reach over the years.

A March report from Avaaz found “Facebook could have prevented 10.1 billion estimated views for top-performing pages that repeatedly shared misinformation” ahead of the 2020 US elections had it acted earlier to limit their reach.

“Failure to downgrade the reach of these pages and to limit their ability to advertise in the year before the election meant Facebook allowed them to almost triple their monthly interactions, from 97 million interactions in October 2019 to 277.9 million interactions in October 2020,” Avaaz found.

Facebook admits that around 5% of its accounts are fake, a number that hasn’t gone down since 2019, according to The New York Times. And MIT Technology Review’s Karen Hao reported in March that Facebook still doesn’t have a centralized team dedicated to ensuring its AI systems and algorithms reduce the spread of misinformation.

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The Trump campaign reportedly cheated donors who thought they were making a one-time contribution, collecting recurring donations

trump impeached
Former President Donald Trump.

  • The Trump 2020 campaign reportedly duped supporters into making recurring donations without their consent.
  • Donors, including cancer patients, who intended to make a one-time contribution ended up making more.
  • According to the New York Times, donations were automatically set to repeat when supporters got to the final stages of contributing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In what seemed to be an effort to bolster political contributions in the heat of the 2020 election against now President Joe Biden, the Trump 2020 campaign reportedly duped supporters into making recurring donations without their explicit or known consent.

An investigation of Federal Election Commission records done by the New York Times found that the Trump campaign, in the last two months of 2020, was forced to give hundreds of thousands of refunds in the amount of about $64 million. In total the campaign refunded $122 million, the newspaper said.

Many of these accidental repeat donors believed they were signing up to give a one-time contribution, the New York Times reported. Some of the victims of this scheme, like 63-year-old Stacy Blatt, were cancer patients who found themselves unable to pay bills and rent because of the repeated donations to the Trump campaign, the newspaper reported.

It started with an unusual and “aggressive” move: the addition of a small, bright yellow box on Trump’s campaign donation portal in March 2020.

“Make this a monthly recurring donation,” the text in the box read. The box had automatically been checked off as soon as donors landed on the page, the Times reported.

In order to avoid this recurring donation, donors had to manually opt out, the Times said.

Months later, the donation portal added a second pre-checked box. This time, the box automatically directed an additional contribution from the donor in honor of Trump’s birthday in June, according to the Times.

Between June and September, contributions were pouring into the Biden campaign. So the Trump campaign ramped up its approach.

By September, the text in the initial pre-checked box silently changed from “monthly” to “weekly” donation, according to the newspaper.

At this point, the Biden campaign had outraised Trump’s by about $150 million, the Times reported. At the same time, Trump’s own campaign finances were depleting.

Unrealizing Trump supporters began to make several repeated donations to the campaign over the course of a month.

Critics who spoke to the Times blasted the move.

“It’s unfair, it’s unethical and it’s inappropriate,” Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said.

“It should be in textbooks of what you shouldn’t do,” London-based Harry Brignull, a user-experience designer familiar with manipulative digital marketing practices, told the paper.

Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, told the Times: “The fact we had a dispute rate of less than 1 percent of total donations despite raising more grass-roots money than any campaign in history is remarkable.”

The repeat donations became particularly rampant in the months between September and October, after the campaign employed the series of aggressive moves, the Times reported.

In total, the Trump campaign returned a staggering 10.7% of money secured through WinRed, the Republican Party’s contribution portal. In contrast, the Biden campaign returned just 2.2% of the money raised through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s counterpart.

Trump supporters who had unwittingly donated their money to the campaign filed fraud complaints upon noticing unauthorized withdrawals, the Times reported.

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AT&T and Cigna are funding Republican groups led by election objectors they had promised to stop supporting

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (center) and Josh Hawley (top) led the GOP effort to challenge Electoral College votes on January 6, which was interrupted as Trump supporters attempted to violently overturn Biden's victory.
  • AT&T and Cigna gave money to groups run by the GOP election objectors they pledged to stop supporting, Popular Information reported.
  • Some companies paused certain PAC contributions after GOP efforts to overturn Biden’s victory led to violence.
  • Here’s how much each S&P 500 corporate PAC had given – and if they’ve paused or resumed contributions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

AT&T and Cigna both gave money last month to groups overseen by Republican lawmakers who sought to overturn the US presidential election results in January, despite earlier promises to pause support for those lawmakers, Popular Information’s Jedd Legum reported Friday.

After violent pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, interrupting the GOP’s last-ditch effort to invalidate states’ Electoral College results, companies faced intense public criticism over their financial support of the 147 Republican members of Congress who backed the effort.

Amid the backlash, dozens of major corporations said they would pause contributions and reevaluate how they determine which lawmakers to support.

Yet barely a month later, AT&T and Cigna gave contributions to Republican groups led by – and benefitting – those same lawmakers.

AT&T’s Political Action Committee (PAC), just 35 days after pausing contributions to the 147 election objectors, gave $5,000 to the House Conservative Fund in February, according to Legum. Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana who voted against certifying Electoral College results, sits on the fund’s executive committee – while other objectors are among its membership.

“Our employee PACs continue to adhere to their policy adopted on January 11 of suspending contributions to campaign committees of members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes. Our employee PACs did not adopt a policy to halt contributions to Democratic and Republican multi-candidate PACs, however,” an AT&T spokesperson told Insider in a statement.

They added that while the contribution “was not intended to circumvent the current suspension policy regarding individual campaigns,” the PAC “is requesting that none of its contribution to the House Conservative Fund or to any other multi-candidate PAC go to any member of congress who objected to the Electoral College votes.”

“Going forward, our employee PACs will begin reviewing all multi-candidate PAC contributions for consistency with the policy on individual campaign contributions,” the spokesperson said.

Insider could not immediately confirm whether AT&T’s PAC was aware of Rep. Johnson’s connection to the House Conservative Fund when it made the contribution or when the PAC requested that the funds not benefit him or other objectors.

Cigna, which had said it would “discontinue support of any elected official who encouraged or supported violence, or otherwise hindered a peaceful transition of power,” continued that support just 22 days later by giving $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Legum reported. The NRSC is chaired by GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, another election objector.

Cigna did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Political Action Committees backed by S&P 500 companies gave more than $23 million to the 147 GOP election objectors during the most recent campaign cycles (2020 for House members; 2016 and 2018 for senators), according to an Insider analysis of Federal Election Commission data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Critics, from activists to shareholders to other executives, have argued the contributions helped those lawmakers get elected and stay in power, giving them the platform they used to undermine voters’ faith in the election (which Trump’s former top cybersecurity official called “the most secure in American history“).

Read more: Democrats are plotting the death – and rebirth – of a hamstrung Federal Election Commission now that they’ll control the White House and both chambers of Congress

Following reporting from Popular Information and other media outlets, many companies began rethinking their political contributions.

Companies’ commitments varied widely, however.

Few have permanently blacklisted election objectors, and as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the largest contributions typically happen right before, not after elections, leaving the door open for companies to resume their support once the public’s attention has turned elsewhere – an argument bolstered by AT&T and Cigna’s recent contributions.

Other companies paused all PAC contributions, potentially allowing them to benefit from the positive PR without having to explicitly condemn – or risk alienating – more than half of the Republicans in Congress.

Still, dozens issued public statements or internal memos announcing they would pause contributions while reevaluating how they use their money to influence politics.

Here’s a list of the S&P 500 companies – some of the largest and most influential businesses in the US – how much they gave to the 147 election objectors in the latest election cycles through their corporate PACs, and whether they’ve pulled (or resumed) their support.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that AT&T’s employee PAC had violated its policy, announced January 11, that it would “suspend contributions to members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes,” by giving to a multi-candidate fund that includes such members. AT&T’s PAC did not adopt a policy to suspend contributions to multi-candidate groups, a spokesperson said.

Do you work for one of these companies and have information about how they’re responding to recent events? We’d love to hear how they’re navigating the current political landscape. Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal ( +1 503-319-3213 ), email (tsonnemaker@insider.com), or Twitter (@TylerSonnemaker ). We can keep sources anonymous. PR pitches by email only, please.

Read the original article on Business Insider

AT&T, Cigna abandon promises to stop financing Republicans who voted to overturn the election

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (center) and Josh Hawley (top) led the GOP effort to challenge Electoral College votes on January 6, which was interrupted as Trump supporters attempted to violently overturn Biden's victory.
  • AT&T and Cigna have resumed funding GOP election objectors, Popular Information reported Friday.
  • Some companies paused PAC contributions after GOP efforts to overturn Biden’s victory led to violence.
  • Here’s how much each S&P 500 corporate PAC had given – and if they’ve paused or resumed contributions.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

AT&T and Cigna both gave money last month to groups overseen by Republican lawmakers who sought to overturn the US presidential election results in January, contradicting the companies’ earlier promises, Popular Information’s Jedd Legum reported Friday.

After violent pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, interrupting the GOP’s last-ditch effort to invalidate states’ Electoral College results, companies faced intense public criticism over their financial support of the 147 Republican members of Congress who backed the effort.

Amid the backlash, dozens of major corporations said they would pause contributions and reevaluate how they determine which lawmakers to support.

Yet barely a month later, AT&T and Cigna have apparently determined that some of those lawmakers are once again deserving of support.

AT&T and Cigna did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

AT&T’s Political Action Committee (PAC), just 35 days after pausing contibutions to the 147 election objectors, gave $5,000 to the Republican Study Committee in February, according to Legum. Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana who voted against certifying Electoral College results, sits on the RSC’s executive committee.

Cigna, which had said it would “discontinue support of any elected official who encouraged or supported violence, or otherwise hindered a peaceful transition of power,” continued that support just 22 days later by giving $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Legum reported. The NRSC is chaired by GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, another election objector.

Political Action Committees backed by S&P 500 companies gave more than $23 million to the 147 GOP election objectors during the most recent campaign cycles (2020 for House members; 2016 and 2018 for senators), according to an Insider analysis of Federal Election Commission data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Critics, from activists to shareholders to other executives, have argued the contributions helped those lawmakers get elected and stay in power, giving them the platform they used to undermine voters’ faith in the election (which Trump’s former top cybersecurity official called “the most secure in American history“).

Read more: Democrats are plotting the death – and rebirth – of a hamstrung Federal Election Commission now that they’ll control the White House and both chambers of Congress

Following reporting from Popular Information and other media outlets, many companies began rethinking their political contributions.

Companies’ commitments varied widely, however.

Few have permanently blacklisted election objectors, and as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the largest contributions typically happen right before, not after elections, leaving the door open for companies to resume their support once the public’s attention has turned elsewhere – an argument bolstered by AT&T and Cigna’s recent contributions.

Other companies paused all PAC contributions, potentially allowing them to benefit from the positive PR without having to explicitly condemn – or risk alienating – more than half of the Republicans in Congress.

Still, dozens issued public statements or internal memos announcing they would pause contributions while reevaluating how they use their money to influence politics.

Here’s a list of the S&P 500 companies – some of the largest and most influential businesses in the US – how much they gave to the 147 election objectors in the latest election cycles through their corporate PACs, and whether they’ve pulled (or resumed) their support.

Do you work for one of these companies and have information about how they’re responding to recent events? We’d love to hear how they’re navigating the current political landscape. Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal ( +1 503-319-3213 ), email (tsonnemaker@insider.com), or Twitter (@TylerSonnemaker ). We can keep sources anonymous. PR pitches by email only, please.

Read the original article on Business Insider