An ex-employee at Facebook’s Germany headquarters revealed the tactics the company used to silence critics of the liberal German government.
In an interview with “The European“, ex-Facebook employee Melanie C. talked about the methods used by the company to manipulate coverage before the German Federal election. Melanie worked as a moderator for the social media giant for three months while in university.
Melanie said she was approached by an employment agency about an undisclosed job that would last until shortly after the German Federal election. She was invited down to Berlin for an interview.
The first part of the interview was a casual one-to-one with a recruiter. He asked her general questions about her background and studies.
“Then he asked me if I was politically active and so on,” Melanie told the magazine. “I told him that I was once in the “General Student Committee” and my father and actually the whole family is in the Social Democratic Party.”
“He then asked me if I could also imagine working in an accommodation for asylum seekers, perhaps teaching there. So I said yes – he liked that.”
“We just talked about me and current issues, what we need to do to make people feel better, and what will make Europe and the world more peaceful and humane,” she said.
Melanie was then escorted to another room for a group interview. The room had six other people in their mid-20s and two recruiters. At the beginning of the session, one of the candidates asked what the job was.
“The company we work for does not want that candidates, who might not be selected, to know what it is,” said the recruiter
Melanie said they discussed Trump, women’s right, and refugees in Europe during the group interview. A man who defended Trump and two less vocal candidates were asked to leave. The remaining four had another one-to-one with the recruiters.
The recruiter explained to Melanie that due to changes in German laws, Facebook was hiring people to monitor and delete hate-speech and fake news. Melanie claims he used a story about a refugee raping a young girl in Sweden as an example of fake news.
Melanie accepted the job.
“My mentor, Sabine, said we need to be aware of the responsibility we have here. After all, we are facing an important election, and one posting on Facebook could quickly be shared a few thousand times and reach millions people,” she said.
“Among them, there would also be news that would confuse people, or make the populace uneasy, or rile them up – then eventually, more people would vote for the Nazis of the Alternative for Germany. Which would mean that violence increases, and we once again have a Third Reich. I didn’t want that nor did she.”
Alternative for Germany, AfD, is a right-wing political party that made headlines during the election for their comments on Islam and migration.
Her mentor added: “We are the shield of democracy, and need to do much with our work, so that Nazis (Melanie says the mentor meant the AfD) do not come to power.”
Melanie said her supervisors urged her to censor all flagged comments. She added that they berated people for not removing all suspect posts.
Melanie claims Facebook had a blacklist of news websites and blogs, including foreign ones, that were critical of the German government, and reported on migrant crimes.
The list was updated every two weeks by an employee of a government-funded foundation that monitored hate speech on the internet.
A month before the election, the foundation employee explained that the right had built up an incredible campaign on social media to influence undecided voters.
After that, Melanie said she was told to be more vigilant. She claims they were urged to censor not just fake news, but anything critical of the current liberal government. They censored anti-refugee news and criticism of the European Union from right-wing outlets.
Melanie explained that very few things got deleted, as it would not be acceptable under Germany’s freedom of expression. Melanie said they “bullied away” users who posted right-wing content by banning them for extended periods of time. For people that did not give up, they resorted to other tactics such as shadow banning.
“I feel really bad. I feel that I have done something really bad, even against the victims of the crime in the articles that I had to dismiss as spam. I feel as if I somehow manipulated people and cheated on their own opinion.”