Dubbed the “Facebook whistleblower,” Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the company, is one of the latest figures rising against Big Tech. The documents she leaked earlier in 2021 show Facebook’s lack of measures against discrimination, hate speech, and other harmful misinformation on its social platforms. Whistleblowers like Haugen seek to hold companies accountable for their unethical wrongdoing as they share their information and experience with federal agencies.
What Is a Whistleblower?
The term "whistleblower” designates someone who reports a violation of the law committed by their employer. The first amendment allows employees to freely express their opinions on public issues, which covers those related to their job duties. They may share those opinions with fellow employees, government agencies, and the public.
Individuals can disclose unlawfully hidden information about unethical conduct that may threaten public safety, unlawful gain or use of public funds, and other violations of the law. Whistleblowers must act in good faith and make their official complaints either to their employer or to a federal agency. What may or may not be shared with the public varies on a case-by-case basis.
What Does Haugen’s Case Tell Us About Big Tech’s Responsibilities?
Whistleblower Frances Haugen left her job at Facebook earlier this year with many documents, from internal papers to discussion threads. What she has shared since has provided significant insight into the Big Tech company’s negative societal impact. Such harm happens because of the problematic content Facebook has allowed or even encouraged to spread due to its algorithm, which includes vaccine disinformation during the pandemic as well as inspiring political divisions in several countries.
Ms. Haugen revealed her identity in the Fall and testified before a Senate committee. She also shared the documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which showed how some Facebook employees raised concerns about the company’s damaging effects, as well as the lack of effective response from its leaders.
The three main recommendations from Haugen’s complaint and hearings are:
- Changing the current Facebook algorithm that focuses on user engagement, at the risk and cost of promoting harmful content
- Creating and enforcing government regulations to keep Big Tech accountable
- Considering international security as Facebook is widely popular across the world, including in regions lacking the tech and legal specialists for closer monitoring
Haugen discussed how regulating Facebook is a great challenge due to its focus on user-shared content across the world. Not only does it need clear definitions of hate speech and harmful disinformation, but it also must respect freedom of expression. Enforcing regulations also requires finding an adequate budget for many government agencies.
What Legal Protections Do Whistleblowers Have?
A variety of protection laws allow whistleblowers to report and testify about their employers in the case of illegal or unethical actions. If you are a federal employee, the Federal Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 1989 is your primary protection.
It is important to know that the range of whistleblower protection varies depending on who your employer is and where you work. This is why working with an experienced attorney can ensure you benefit from the appropriate protections.
Even if your employer proves their compliance with the law, you are still legally protected from unlawful retaliation. If any retaliatory action occurs, you can pursue several forms of justice, including back-pay for a lack of promotion, and reinstatement in your job after a wrongful termination.
If you need the legal representation of an effective whistleblower attorney, call John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law today at (202) 759-7780!