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.
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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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Rudy Giuliani’s legal woes mount as a federal criminal investigation into his Ukraine dealings resumes, report says

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani speaks during an appearance before the Michigan House Oversight Committee on December 2, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan.

  • A probe into Rudy Giuliani’s business and overseas dealings has resumed, according to AP.
  • The criminal investigation will look into the legality of his conversations with Ukrainian officials.
  • Giuliani is also facing lawsuits from Dominion and a Democratic lawmaker.
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A federal criminal investigation into Rudy Giuliani has resumed, according to the Associated Press.

The US Attorney’s office at the South District of New York has “returned to the question of bringing a criminal case against Giuliani,” the news outlet reported.

Investigators intend to look into former President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney’s business dealings and whether these defied lobbying laws, AP said.

There will be a particular focus on examining the legality surrounding Giuliani’s conversations with Ukrainian officials, Forbes reported.

According to two unnamed officials familiar with AP, whether Giuliani’s failure to register as a foreign agent is central to this probe.

A transcript surfaced last month of a 40-minute phone call between Giuliani and two Ukrainian officials in which he allegedly pressured them to investigate the Biden family, reported Time magazine.

This is reminiscent of the call which was central to Trump’s first impeachment inquiry, in which the former president spoke to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelnskiy about Hunter Biden, 

The investigation into Giuliani’s Ukraine dealings temporarily reached a halt last year after Justice Department officials attempted to block a search warrant of the former mayor’s digital records, The New York Times reported.

It has reportedly received a jumpstart because “the dust has settled now,” former federal prosecutor Kenneth F. McCallion told AP.

Giuliani said that he believes this investigation is “pure political persecution,” he told the news outlet. 

His lawyer, Robert J. Costello, told AP that he has “heard nothing” about the probe.

Giuliani is currently facing a number of legal challenges linked to his baseless claims of voter fraud during the presidential election. On Friday, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell filed a federal lawsuit against Trump, Giuliani, and GOP Rep. Mo Brooks.

Dominion Voting Systems have also filed a lawsuit against Giuliani, accusing him of defamation.

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Ukraine’s president says the Capitol attack makes it hard for the world to see the US as a ‘symbol of democracy’

Volodymyr Zelensky Donald Trump
President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on during a meeting in New York on September 25, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the January 6 Capitol attack was a “strong blow” to American democracy.
  • “After something like this, I believe it would be very difficult for the world to see the US as a symbol of democracy,” he told Axios.
  • Zelensky was at the center of President Donald Trump’s first impeachment in late 2019 and early 2020. 
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a new interview with Axios that aired Sunday said that the violent insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6 greatly tarnished the world’s image of the US.

Asked how he felt as he watched the Capitol attack from afar, Zelensky said he was “very shocked” and “could not imagine that something like this was possible in the US.” He described the deadly insurrection as a “strong blow” to American democracy.

“In Ukraine, we lived through two revolutions … we understood such things can happen in the world,” Zelensky said. “But that it could happen in the United States? No one expected that … I was very worried … I did not want you to have a coup.”

President Donald Trump provoked the violent insurrection involving his supporters at the Capitol as he continued an effort to overturn the 2020 election based on groundless allegations of mass voter fraud. Five people died in the riots.

“After something like this, I believe it would be very difficult for the world to see the US as a symbol of democracy,” Zelensky said.

This interview came roughly a year after Zelensky was at the center of a major political drama in the US: Trump’s first impeachment.

During an infamous July 2019 phone call, Trump pressured Zelensky to launch an investigation into then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump was urging his Ukrainian counterpart to begin an inquiry into baseless allegations that Biden used his influence as vice president in the Obama administration to shield his son from a legal probe in Ukraine. Trump also wanted Zelensky to look into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

The call took place as Trump withheld millions of dollars of congressionally-approved military aid to Kiev, which heavily relies on US assistance amid an ongoing war with Kremlin-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

Trump was ultimately impeached in the House in December 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in relation to his Ukraine dealings, but acquitted in the Senate in February 2020. After the Capitol siege in January, Trump was impeached a second time for inciting the insurrection. Though Trump has left the White House and is no longer president, his impeachment trial is set to begin on February 9.

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Hunter Biden told to disclose information related to Ukrainian energy company Burisma as part of his tax investigation

hunter biden
World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden speaks at the World Food Program USA’s Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC.

  • Hunter Biden has been asked to provide information related to his work at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma as part of the DOJ tax investigation, a source involved in the process told the Associated Press.
  • The president-elect’s second son has also been asked to provide documents relating to his business dealings with China and other financial transactions. 
  • It is not clear whether the younger Biden’s work at the Ukrainian company is a central part of the tax investigation.
  • .Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A subpoena issued this week asks Hunter Biden to disclose information relating to his work on the board of the Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, a source involved in the DOJ tax investigation told the Associated Press.

Prosecutors have also asked for documents relating to more than two dozen entities linked to the President-elect’s son, including business dealings with China.

The subpoena comes as Joe Biden’s second son confirmed he was under federal investigation for his financial dealings earlier this week.

It is not clear whether the younger Biden’s work at the Ukrainian company is a central part of the investigation or whether prosecutors are only looking to collect information about all of his income sources in recent years, AP reported.

Hunter Biden said on Tuesday that he is taking the inquiry “very seriously” and is “confident” he handled his affairs “legally and appropriately,” according to Vox.

The investigation was reportedly first opened in late 2018 as a money-laundering probe but is now focusing more on potential violations of tax law.

Details of the subpoena emerged after reports that Hunter Biden’s former business partner at Berisma sent him an email in 2017 alleging that he did not disclose a $400,000 payment received from the company on his tax returns.

“In 2014 you joined the Burisma board and we still need to amend your 2014 returns to reflect the unreported Burisma income,” the email, dated January 16, 2017, said, according to NBC News.

The business partner notes that the younger Biden netted more than $1.2 million for the year.

Hunter Biden signed on as a board member of Burisma Holdings in May 2014, with a press release announcing he would be in charge of the company’s international legal relations with different companies. He later denied this description. 

The appointment came during an intense time between the White House and Russia over Ukraine and its energy dependence.

The younger Biden has not been charged with any criminal activity, and the president-elect is not known to be a subject of interest in the tax probes. 

The younger Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, did not immediately respond comment for this story and a spokesman for the Biden transition team declined to comment.

Biden’s son was a major topic amid chaotic discourse during the first Trump-Biden debate, Trump mentioned his business dealings, including his connections with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings and profiting in China while his father was vice president.

Hunter was previously at the center of Trump’s Ukraine scandal that launched the impeachment inquiry.

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