Former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower Sophie Zhang, who was fired from the social media giant last year, turned down a $64,000 severance package that would have bought her silence, according to a new report.
In a rare interview with MIT Technology Review, an independent publication owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Zhang revealed new details about trading her career for her beliefs to expose allegations of worldwide political manipulation.
“I was the only one in this position of responsibility from the start,” she told the magazine. “And someone had to take the responsibility and do the utmost to protect people.”
She risked everything to expose Facebook. Now she’s telling her story.
Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist at Facebook, revealed that it enables global political manipulation and has done little to stop it.
The world first learned of Sophie Zhang in September 2020, when BuzzFeed News obtained and published highlights from an abridged version of her nearly 8,000-word exit memo from Facebook.
Before she was fired, Zhang was officially employed as a low-level data scientist at the company. But she had become consumed by a task she deemed more important: finding and taking down fake accounts and likes that were being used to sway elections globally.
Her memo revealed that she’d identified dozens of countries, including India, Mexico, Afghanistan, and South Korea, where this type of abuse was enabling politicians to mislead the public and gain power. It also revealed how little the company had done to mitigate the problem, despite Zhang’s repeated efforts to bring it to the attention of leadership.
“I know that I have blood on my hands by now,” she wrote.