In September of 2020, on her last day at Facebook, data scientist Sophie Zhang posted a 7,900-word memo to the company's internal site. In it, she described the anguish and guilt she had experienced over the last two and a half years. She'd spent much of that time almost single-handedly trying to rein in fake activity on the platform by nefarious world leaders in small countries. Sometimes she received help and attention from higher-ups; sometimes she got silence and inaction. “I joined Facebook from the start intending to change it from the inside,” she said, but “I was still very naive at the time.”
We don’t have a lot of information about how things operate inside the major tech platforms, and most former employees aren’t free to speak about their experience. It’s easy to fill that void with inferences about what might be motivating a company — greed, apathy, disorganization or ignorance, for example — but the truth is usually far messier and more nuanced. Sophie turned down a $64,000 severance package to avoid signing a non-disparagement agreement. In this episode of Your Undivided Attention, she explains to Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin how she ended up here, and offers ideas about what could be done at these companies to prevent similar kinds of harm in the future.
As a data scientist, Sophie spent over 2 years trying to fix Facebook from within, and became a whistleblower after she failed. She currently stays home to pet her cats.
Buzzfeed News broke Sophie’s story to the public, and excerpted several portions of her original memo.
In April 2021, The Guardian followed up with Sophie to publish a detailed account of her experience and add additional reporting.
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