Facebook recently took a more harsh tone towards Frances Haugen, a whistleblower. This suggests that the social media network might be considering legal retaliation for Haugen’s public disclosure of internal research she had done before she quit her job earlier in the year.
Whistleblowers are protected under U.S. law if they disclose potential misconduct to government. However, this protection does not necessarily protect corporate secrets from being disclosed to the media.
Facebook must still tread a delicate line. Facebook must decide if suing Haugen would be worth it. This could discourage other employees from speaking out.
Haugen could face additional consequences. Whistleblowers can be at risk of professional and personal damage.
Facebook did not respond via email to questions.
WHAT DID HAUGEN DO?
Before leaving Facebook, Haugen secretly copied a number of documents from the company’s internal Facebook pages. Her lawyers filed complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging Facebook conceals information about its negative effects.
John Tye, Haugen’s lawyer, stated that the team provided redacted documents to Congress. Haugen testified before Congress on Tuesday. California officials were also informed by Haugen. Haugen also shared documents with the Wall Street Journal that she began talking to in December . This led to an series of explosive stories that started in mid-September.
WHAT WAS FACEBOOK’S REPONSE?
According to the company, it was misunderstood. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote Tuesday to employees, “I think most people just don’t recognize that false picture of the company being painted.”
Officials at some companies have begun to use harsher language in order to describe Haugen’s actions, which could be taken as threatening.
Monika Bickert, Facebook’s executive, repeatedly referred to Haugen’s documents as “stolen” in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday. This is a term she also used in other media interviews. David Colapinto is a whistleblower lawyer who works for Kohn, Kohn, and Colapinto.
Bickert was also asked whether Facebook would sue or respond to whistleblowers in the same interview. He said, “I can’t answer that.”