A recent report from the New York Post claims that Facebook has hired Chinese nationals who are “working on censorship,” at the company. China famously employs the “Great Chinese Firewall” to block many websites within the communist country, including Facebook.
The New York Post reports that a Facebook Insider told the publication that at least half a dozen “Chinese nationals who are working on censorship,” are employed at Facebook. The insider told the Post: “So at some point, they [Facebook bosses] thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to get them H-1B visas so they can do this work.’ ”
The insider provided the Post with an internal directory of the team that does much of the censorship work at Facebook. According to the Post, the job is referred to as “Hate-Speech Engineering” and most of its members are based out of Facebook’s Seattle offices. Many of those working there have Ph.D.s, and their work involves machine learning and AI.
At Facebook, this mainly pertains to teaching the Facebook algorithm to manage what content shows up in users’ newsfeeds. The Facebook insider states that this means making sure certain content “shows up dead-last.” The insider used New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari as an example of an average Facebook user, stating: “They take what Sohrab sees, and then they throw the newsfeed list into a machine-learning algorithm and neural networks that determine the ranking of the items.”
Facebook engineers reportedly test hundreds of different iterations of the rankings to determine an optimal outcome and remove what top executives refer to as “borderline content.” The insider stated: “What they don’t do is ban a specific pro-Trump hashtag. Content that is a little too conservative, they will down-rank. You can’t tell it’s censored.”
The Post notes that the employees on Facebook’s Hate-Speech Engineering team earned their degrees from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Jilin University in northeast China, and Nanjing University in eastern China. Another engineer reportedly worked for Huawei, a company that has been labeled a security threat by the U.S. and Sweden.
The idea of one of America’s most powerful companies using Chinese censorship experts is troubling for reasons beyond the obvious. The Chinese nationals could be in a position to spy on both the comapny and its users. The National Security blog Lawfare notes that Chinese intelligence law allows the country to deputized any of its citizens into doing intelligence work such as acquiring data. Lawfare writes:
Article Seven stipulates that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law.” Article 14, in turn, grants intelligence agencies authority to insist on this support: “state intelligence work organs, when legally carrying forth intelligence work, may demand that concerned organs, organizations, or citizens provide needed support, assistance, and cooperation.” Organizations and citizens must also protect the secrecy of “any state intelligence work secrets of which they are aware.” These clauses appear to limit the obligations on individuals to Chinese citizens, but they do not stipulate that only Chinese “organizations” are subject to these requirements.
A Facebook spokesperson denied that these employees influence the site’s broad policies, stating: “We are a stronger company because our employees come from all over the world. Our standards and policies are public, including about our third-party fact-checking program, and designed to apply equally to content across the political spectrum. With over 35,000 people working on safety and security issues at Facebook, the insinuation that these employees have an outsized influence on our broader policies or technology is absurd.”
Read more about Facebook’s recent censorship scandals at Breitbart News here.