Illustrations: Erik Carter

The Risk Makers

Viral hate, election interference, and hacked accounts: inside the tech industry’s decades-long failure to reckon with risk

Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly
Published in
35 min readSep 21, 2020

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OOne spring day in 2014, Susan Benesch arrived at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park and was ushered into a glass-walled conference room. She’d traveled from Washington, D.C., to meet with Facebook’s Compassion Research Team, a group that included employees, academics, and researchers whose job was to build tools to help users resolve conflicts directly, reducing Facebook’s need to intervene.

Benesch, a human rights lawyer, faculty associate at Harvard, and founder of the Dangerous Speech Project, a nonprofit studying the connection between online speech and real-world violence, worked closely with the Compassion Research Team, and used this meeting to raise a serious issue that had come to her attention: The extensive sectarian violence in Myanmar.

Long before it was headline news, human rights groups were warning that the Burmese military and a segment of the population were orchestrating widescale abuses against civilians, particularly the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority: forced labor, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, the burning of villages. The attacks, amply documented but denied by the Myanmar government, were being coordinated online and…

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Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly
Writer for

Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly are award-winning writers and frequent collaborators. Follow their work on Twitter: @ckbuni and @schemaly.