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Facebook moderators fear for their lives after bug exposes them to potential terrorists

One worker fled his country in fear that he could face retaliation.


Phillip Tracy


Posted on Jun 16, 2017   Updated on May 23, 2021, 2:51 am CDT

Facebook put the safety of its moderators at risk after a bug exposed their personal information to suspected terrorist users.

Of the more than 1,000 affected moderators, 40 worked in the counter-terrorism unit in Ireland, and six are said to be “high priority” victims of the error. It’s likely their personal profiles were viewed by terrorists linked to ISIS, Hezbollah, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

The Guardian first reported the incident and spoke with one of the six high-priority individuals. The unnamed employee, an Iraqi-born Irish citizen who worked with outsourcing company Cpl Recruitment, had quit his job and moved to Eastern Europe for five months after learning seven potential terrorists he banned had viewed his profile.

“When you come from a war zone and you have people like that knowing your family name you know that people get butchered for that,” he told the Guardian. “The punishment from ISIS for working in counter-terrorism is beheading. All they’d need to do is tell someone who is radical here.”

The bug was discovered in November 2016 after moderators starting receiving friend requests from people affiliated with terrorist groups. It found that the personal Facebook profiles of contractors, who police the network for content including sexual abuse, hate speech, and terrorist propaganda, were automatically appearing in the activity logs of the groups the individuals were shutting down. Facebook required its workers to use their personal Facebook accounts to log into its moderation system.

The social media giant confirmed the incident in a statement to the Guardian, saying it made changes to “better detect and prevent these types of issues from occurring.”

“Our investigation found that only a small fraction of the names were likely viewed, and we never had evidence of any threat to the people impacted or their families as a result of this matter,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement provided to the Daily Dot. “Even so, we contacted each of them individually to offer support, answer their questions, and take meaningful steps to ensure their safety.”

According to the Guardian, the company initially responded to the incident by offering to install home security and provide counseling to all those affected, but that did little to dispel fear. The unnamed high-priority worker, who was paid just $15 an hour, filed a legal claim against Facebook this month seeking compensation for psychological damage.

“I don’t have a job, I have anxiety and I’m on antidepressants,” he said. “I can’t walk anywhere without looking back.”

Facebook says it will now test the use of administrative accounts that are not linked to personal profiles.

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*First Published: Jun 16, 2017, 10:20 am CDT