TO WARD OFF accusations that it helps terrorists spread propaganda, Facebook has for many years barred users from speaking freely about people and groups it says promote violence.
The restrictions appear to trace back to 2012, when in the face of growing alarm in Congress and the United Nations about online terrorist recruiting, Facebook added to its Community Standards a ban on “organizations with a record of terrorist or violent criminal activity.” This modest rule has since ballooned into what’s known as the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, a sweeping set of restrictions on what Facebook’s nearly 3 billion users can say about an enormous and ever-growing roster of entities deemed beyond the pale.
In recent years, the policy has been used at a more rapid clip, including against the president of the United States, and taken on almost totemic power at the social network, trotted out to reassure the public whenever paroxysms of violence, from genocide in Myanmar to riots on Capitol Hill, are linked to Facebook. Most recently, following a damning series of Wall Street Journal articles showing the company knew it facilitated myriad offline harms, a Facebook vice president cited the policy as evidence of the company’s diligence in an internal memo obtained by the New York Times.
Sophie Zhang, who said she felt like she had “blood on her hands” after working at Facebook, is willing to testify before Congress about her former employer, she told CNN Sunday. She said she had also passed on documentation about the company to a US law enforcement agency.
Zhang, who worked as a data scientist at the tech giant for almost three years, wrote a lengthy memo when she was fired by Facebook last year detailing how she believed the company was not doing enough to tackle hate and misinformation — particularly in smaller and developing countries. Zhang said the company told her she was fired because of performance issues.
The memo was first reported last year by BuzzFeed News and later helped form the basis of a series of reports by The Guardian newspaper.