EXPLAINER: Could Facebook sue whistleblower Frances Haugen?

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Facebook has recently taken a harsher tone toward whistleblower Frances Haugen, suggesting that the social network may be contemplating legal retaliation after Haugen went public with internal research she found earlier this year when she quit her job. copied before.

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US law protects whistleblowers who disclose information about potential misconduct to the government. But this protection is not necessary for taking corporate secrets to the media.

Facebook still has a fine line to walk. The company will have to weigh whether suing Haugen, who denies other employees who may speak otherwise, is worth casting himself as a legal Godzilla ready to stomp on a woman who She says she is doing just the right thing.


Haugen may be facing other consequences. Whistleblowers often put themselves at risk of professional harm – other companies may be reluctant to hire them in the future – and personal attacks from being in the public eye.

Facebook did not respond to emailed questions.

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What did Hogan do?

Hogen secretly copied a slew of internal Facebook documents before leaving the company, and his lawyers later filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Facebook concealed what they knew about the negative effects of its platform. .

John Tye, his attorney, said the team provided the revised documents to Congress, where Haugen testified Tuesday, and also informed officials in California. Haugen also shared documents with the Wall Street Journal, which she began talking to in December, triggering a series of explosive stories that began in mid-September.

What was Facebook’s reaction?

The company says that it has been misrepresented. “I think most of us don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being portrayed,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote to employees on Tuesday.

Some company executives have even begun using harsh language to describe Haugen’s actions that could be interpreted as threatening.

In an Associated Press interview on Thursday, Facebook executive Monica Bickert repeatedly referred to documents copied by Hogen as “stolen,” a term she has also used in other media interviews. David Colapinto, an attorney for Cohn, Cohn and Colapinto, who specializes in whistleblower cases, said the language was threatening.

In the same interview, when asked whether Facebook would sue or retaliate against the whistleblower, Bickert simply said, “I can’t answer that.”

A week earlier, Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis testified in the Senate that Facebook would “never retaliate against anyone for talking to Congress,” which left open the possibility that the company would file documents to the Journal. can go after him.

Hagen is protected?

Various laws provide whistleblower protection at both the state and federal level. Federal laws that apply to Hogen are the Dodd-Frank Act, the 2010 Wall Street Reform Act, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act, a 2002 law that followed the collapse of Enron and other accounting scandals.

Dodd-Frank expanded protections for whistleblowers and empowered the SEC to take action against a company that threatens whistleblowers. Experts say protections exist for both employees and former employees.

When asked about his exposure to the media, Haugen’s attorney, Ty, says that because Haugen went to the SEC, Congress and state officials, he deserves whistleblower protection. He said any lawsuit on Facebook’s part would be “frivolous” and that Facebook has not been in touch.

What about his leaks in the media?

Courts have not tested whether leaking to the media is safe under Dodd-Frank, but Colapinto said the US Secretary of Labor determined decades ago that environmental and nuclear-safety whistleblowers’ communications with the media were secure. They argue that the language of Sarbanes-Oxley is based on those earlier laws, and that Haugen should receive equal protection for any of his communications with journalists.

Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall and Banks, who has worked on whistleblower cases for decades, said Facebook could allege that Hogan made defamatory comments by sharing company documents with the press, leaking trade secrets, or simply making defamatory remarks to Facebook. broke its non-disclosure agreement. “Like many whistleblowers, she is exceptionally brave and puts herself at personal and professional risk to shine a light on these practices,” she said.

Haugen effectively used leaks in the media to increase pressure on Congress and government regulators. Colapinto said his disclosure was aimed at a public interest which could make the NDA difficult to implement if Facebook decided to do so.

Could Facebook be in shock?

Facebook probably wants its hidden threats to harass other employees or former employees, who may be tempted to speak up. “If they go after him, it’s not because they necessarily think they have a strong case legally, but sending the message to other people that they intend to play hardball,” Banks said.

But she said it would be a “disaster” for Facebook after Haugen. Despite the potential legal vulnerabilities, Facebook could look like a bully if it pursued a legal case against it.

Neil Getnick said, “The last thing Facebook needs is for government officials and the public at large to play the big bad giant company against the daring individual whistleblower.”

Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Facebook

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