The Facebook whistleblower: what’s different this time? Part I
“I don’t hate Facebook. I love Facebook. I want to save it”, wrote Frances Haugen as she resigned from Facebook and revealed tens of thousands of documents alleging Facebook has time and again prioritized profit over people.
Most whistleblowers face severe consequences –retaliation, job loss, even life threats, for disclosing practices of wrongdoing or abuse of power. Women and minorities are often ‘double disadvantaged’ and may experience even worse implications. A whistleblower may face a ‘choiceless choice’: they must disclose the wrongdoing despite the high personal cost, because non-disclosure means the wrongdoing continues at the public cost. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in many ways challenges these narratives established in whistleblower research. In a two-part series blog, we want to explore the differences about the Facebook Whistleblower in light of existing data on whistleblowing, and question what new lessons we could learn.
Deliberate and Organised Revelation
Revelations by Haugen seem to be deliberate and well-organised. Haugen was aware of the costly consequences of her action and pondering on the exit alternatives. Having decided to come forward with the information, she knew that without evidence those serious allegations would be quashed. She recognizes and accepts the risks and consequences of speaking truth against a giant tech company.
How Haugen handled revelations is also outstanding. Haugen sits at the centre of a PR campaign managing a new website, a new social media account, press interviews, testimonies before parliaments, conference attendances. Following the publication of Wall Street Journal ‘Facebook Files’ and revealing her identity in the 60 Minutes show, she instantly received invitations from the U.S. Congress, the European Parliament, and the UK House of Lords to share her insights. The Haugen’s PR campaign aims to reach out as wide an audience across the world as possible. She is supported by the Omidyar group, an organization helping her and her team to cover the travel, logistics, and communications costs. Bill Burton, a public affairs expert at the Center for Humane Technology and a former Obama administration press secretary, is reported to be the part of the team assisting Haugen with media relations. An organized and well-funded campaign is making it possible for revelations to focus on the disclosures, rather than turn the public focus and creative negative narrative for the whistleblower.
Another hard reality for most whistleblowers is the financial consequences of making their disclosures. Loss of income and costly litigations can take a profound toll on whistleblowers, another aspect Haugen appears to have managed well as she seems to be financially secure both due to her work and the support she is receiving after the revelations. For example, Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit organization responsible for legal representation of Haugen, is organizing a funding campaign to support Francis Haugen and to benefit Whistleblower Aid.
In short, Haugen made a deliberate and calculated choice, she is financially secure, and her message is heard by relevant regulators as well as the public. What factors explain these developments? Is this practice an outlier or does it indicate what we will be seeing in other whistleblower cases in the future? Part II of this blog will answer these questions.
|More blogs on Law Blogs Maastricht|