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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company's Developer Conference on April 30, 2019. (Photo: Anthony Quintano/Flickr/cc)

New Whistleblower Sparks Calls to 'Crack Down on Facebook and All Big Tech Companies'

Hours after another ex-employee filed a formal complaint, reporting broke on internal documents that show the tech giant's failure to address concerns about content related to the 2020 U.S. election.

Jessica Corbett

Another former Facebook employee on Friday submitted a complaint to the U.S. government, bolstering whistleblower Frances Haugen's recent criticism of the company in testimony to Congress and other formal complaints, and sparking fresh calls for accountability.

"It's time for immediate action to hold the company accountable for the many harms it's inflicted on our democracy."

The new whistleblower affidavit submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was obtained by The Washington Post, which reports that the unidentified ex-employee accuses Facebook—which may get a new name in a rebranding as early as next week—of prioritizing growth and profits over limiting the spread of problematic content.

"Facebook cannot govern itself," said Eric Null, U.S. policy manager at the group Access Now, in response to the Post's reporting. "The company repeatedly fails to live up to its promises, and, thanks to the whistleblowers and other prominent research, we have the receipts."

Null and other critics of the company were quick to reiterate demands for action by U.S. lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

"Given what we now know about Facebook's singular focus on growth over addressing its destructive behavior, and that it has been perpetuating and causing civil rights-related harms, Congress and the FTC need to crack down on Facebook and all big tech companies," Null said. "Legislation, or FTC rules, should include strict data protection provisions that put an end to the pernicious hyper-targeting and data-obsessed advertising business model. Without it, Facebook, and Big Tech in general, will continue to wreak havoc at home and around the world."

Free Press Action co-CEO Jessica González similarly said in a statement that "the latest whistleblower revelations confirm what many of us have been sounding the alarm about for years. Facebook is not fit to govern itself."

"The social-media giant is already trying to minimize the value and impact of these whistleblower exposés, including Frances Haugen's," she said, accusing the company of "conducting a serial cover-up of practices that put communities of color and other minorities at great risk for hate, harassment, violence, and disinformation campaigns."

Taking aim at the company's CEO, González added that "not only are Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives failing to protect our elections and keep our communities safe, they are failing to fulfill their responsibilities to the company's shareholders."

"Zuckerberg has made multiple appearances before Congress and nothing has changed," she said. "It's time for Congress and the Biden administration to investigate a Facebook business model that profits from spreading the most extreme hate and disinformation. It's time for immediate action to hold the company accountable for the many harms it's inflicted on our democracy."

The Post reports that the SEC affidavit alleges Facebook officials "routinely undermined efforts to fight misinformation, hate speech, and other problematic content out of fear of angering then-President Donald Trump and his political allies, or out of concern about potentially dampening the user growth key to Facebook's multibillion-dollar profits."

As the newspaper explains:

Friday's filing is the latest in a series since 2017 spearheaded by former journalist Gretchen Peters and a group she leads, the Alliance to Counter Crime Online. Taken together, the filings argue that Facebook has failed to adequately address dangerous and criminal behavior on its platforms, including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. The alleged failings include permitting terrorist content, drug sales, hate speech, and misinformation to flourish, while also failing to adequately warn investors about the potential risks when such problems surface, as some have in news reports over the years.

"Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives repeatedly claimed high rates of success in restricting illicit and toxic content—to lawmakers, regulators, and investors—when in fact they knew the firm could not remove this content and remain profitable," Peters said in a statement.

The "most anguished line in the affidavit" relates to military officials in Myanmar using Facebook to spread hate speech during mass killings of Rohingya people, according to the Post. The whistleblower wrote that "I, working for Facebook, had been a party to genocide."

In a statement to the newspaper, Facebook spokesperson said that its "approach in Myanmar today is fundamentally different from what it was in 2017, and allegations that we have not invested in safety and security in the country are wrong." Asked about toxic content more broadly, she said that "we have every commercial and moral incentive—to try to give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible on Facebook."

Just hours after reporting on and reactions to the new affidavit, The New York Times revealed Friday evening that internal Facebook documents show "employees sounded an alarm about misinformation and inflammatory content on the platform and urged action" both before and after last year's U.S. election, "but the company failed or struggled to address the issues."

One internal report highlighted by the Times—and previously published in full by BuzzFeed News—was about Facebook Groups, which, according to the new whistleblower, the company fails to adequately police. The report was specifically about users exploiting the Groups feature to "rapidly form election delegitimization communities on the site" leading up to January 6, when a right-wing mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.

"Hindsight being 20/20 makes it all the more important to look back," the internal report said, "to learn what we can about the growth of the election delegitimizing movements that grew, spread conspiracy, and helped incite the Capitol insurrection."


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