Upset by Little Action Against Hate, Facebook Software Engineer Resigns

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“I’m quitting because I can no longer stomach contributing to an organisation that is profiting off hate in the US and globally,” said Ashok Chandwaney, a software engineer at Facebook. — Photo courtesy: The Washington Post

“Violent hate groups and far-right militias are out there, and they’re using Facebook to recruit and radicalise people who will go on to commit violent hate crimes”

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

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A young, disillusioned Facebook engineer quit the job on Tuesday citing the social media company’s lack of willingness to curb hate on its platform. This was first reported by The Washington Post.

Ashok Chandwaney (28), who worked as a software engineer at Facebook for over five years, wrote a 1,300-word internal letter which read: “I’m quitting because I can no longer stomach contributing to an organisation that is profiting off hate in the US and globally.”

The letter questions the absence of applications of Facebook’s “five core values” when approaching hate has eroded Chandwaney;s  faith, but the engineer admitted that facebook taught to bold to face hard problems.

However, when Facebook initiated the audit by civil rights auditors on hate, Chandwaney was left wondering by the “lack of willingness, commitment, urgency and transparency around actioning on the civil rights audit’s recommendations to the best of our ability”. It seemed as “if the audit was intended to be a PR deflection strategy,” Chandwaney writes in the letter.

Chandwaney, who identifies as a non-gender binary and prefers pronouns such as they or them, says the company taught him to “pay relentless attention” to the impact of the work “measured by fair, honest metrics”.

But Chandwaney alleges that the company is not applying these values to control hate and violence. “Violent hate groups and far-right militias are out there, and they’re using Facebook to recruit and radicalise people who will go on to commit violent hate crimes. So where’s the metric about this?” Chandwaney asks.

Chandwaney cites three instances to back the claim of lack of the company’s interest in matters which have “life and death consequences.” These are: In August, Facebook obstructed the investigation into the role of the platform in incitement of genocidal violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar; Facebook’s handling of Trump’s post about anti-racism protests—“when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”; No action on Kenosha Militia Facebook Event.

The engineer says the company focused on the “move fast” approach and Chandwaney would execute towards a solution with haste. But,Chandwaney was astonished by the contrast in the approach between issues such as fixing a bug and the company’s “approach to hate on platform.”

In the letter, Chandwey writes, “Feedback is supposed to be a gift, yet despite the enormous feedback (and multiple lawsuits, for discriminatory ads) very little action has been taken.”

He lashes out at the company for pinning the blame on “under-paid and under-supported” content moderators as Chandwaney says “Facebook could almost instantly fix it if so chose” while speaking of the Kenosha militia event. “The actions that have been taken are easy, and could be interpreted as impactful, because they make us look good, rather than impactful because they will make substantive change,” the letter reads.

He says that at Facebook, Chandwaney learnt to engage “honestly and eagerly” but alleges that there is lack of openness when it comes to the matter of hate on platforms. Giving an example of how an extreme-right group gets a pass on the company’s misinformation policies as Chandwaney reveals “the company response was to hide the receipts.” The letter  uses the words “dishonesty” and “not very open” to explain how the company approached Kenosha shootings.

The letter gives an impression that Facebook was hypocritical. Chandwaney is unable to get the claim of the company that through the work Chandwaney has been building social value. “In all my roles across the company, at the end of the day, the decisions have actually come down to business value.”

In August Wall Street Journal published an expose which said Facebook preferred business to applying community guidelines against the hate content of three right-wing leaders after the top India executive advised the staff that taking action would cause harm to the company’s business prospects in India, its biggest global market, as it may annoy the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The issue triggered a massive controversy in India as opposition parties demanded an explanation from Facebook to reveal whether it was colluding with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Washington Post quoted a Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois denying that the company profits from hate.  “We don’t benefit from hate. We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and are in deep partnership with outside experts to review and update our policies. This summer, we launched an industry leading policy to go after QAnon, grew our fact-checking program, and removed millions of posts tied to hate organisations—over 96% of which we found before anyone reported them to us.”

In November 2018, Facebbok admitted that it was used to promote violence and hate against Rohingyas in Myanmar.

In October 2019, a rights advocacy group called Avaaz came out with a report which said Facebook was being used as an effective tool by xenophobes to amplify hatred against minority populations, particularly Muslims in the Indian state of Assam. This, at a time when the government published a controversial citizens register, leaving out nearly two million residents, after a campaign against Muslims of Bengali ethnicity living in the state for decades.

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