Ms. Haugen Secretly Copied A Trove Of Internal Facebook Documents Before Leaving The Company.

Facebook has not too long ago taken a harsher tone towards whistleblower Frances Haugen, suggesting that the social community may very well be contemplating authorized retaliation after Ms. Haugen went public with inner analysis that she copied earlier than leaving her job earlier this yr.

U.S. legislation protects whistleblowers who disclose details about potential misconduct to the federal government. But that safety does not essentially cowl taking company secrets and techniques to the media.

Facebook nonetheless has to stroll a high quality line. The firm has to weigh whether or not suing Ms. Haugen, which might dissuade different staff who would possibly in any other case converse out, is value casting itself as a authorized Godzilla keen to stomp on a girl who says she’s simply doing the fitting factor.

Ms. Haugen might face different penalties. Whistleblowers usually put themselves liable to skilled harm — different companies could also be reluctant to rent them sooner or later — and private assaults from being within the public eye.

Facebook didn’t reply to emailed questions.

What Did Ms. Haugen Do?

Ms. Haugen secretly copied a trove of inner Facebook paperwork earlier than leaving the corporate and subsequently had her attorneys file complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Facebook hides what it is aware of concerning the adverse results of its platform.

John Tye, her lawyer, mentioned the group gave redacted paperwork to Congress, the place Ms. Haugen testified on Tuesday, and likewise knowledgeable officers in California. Haugen additionally shared paperwork with the Wall Street Journal, which she began speaking to in December, resulting in a sequence of explosive tales that started in mid-September.

What Was Facebook’s Response?

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

Some firm officers have additionally begun utilizing harsher language to explain Ms. Haugen’s actions that may very well be interpreted as threatening.

In an Associated Press interview Thursday, Facebook government Monika Bickert repeatedly referred to the paperwork Ms. Haugen copied as “stolen,” a phrase she has additionally utilized in different media interviews. David Colapinto, a lawyer for Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto who makes a speciality of whistleblower instances, mentioned that language was threatening.

In the identical interview, requested if Facebook would sue or retaliate in opposition to the whistleblower, Ms. Bickert mentioned solely, “I can’t answer that.”

Per week earlier, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of world security, testified within the Senate that Facebook “would never retaliate against someone for speaking to Congress,” which left open the chance that the corporate would possibly go after her for giving paperwork to the Journal.

Is Ms. Haugen Protected?

Various legal guidelines provide whistleblower safety at each the state and federal ranges. The federal legal guidelines relevant to Haugen are the Dodd-Frank Act, a 2010 Wall Street reform legislation, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act, a 2002 legislation that adopted the collapse of Enron and different accounting scandals.

Dodd-Frank expanded protections for whistleblowers and empowered the SEC to take motion in opposition to an organization that threatens a whistleblower. Protections exist for each staff and former staff, specialists say.

Asked about her threat as a result of she went to the media, Ms. Haugen’s lawyer, Mr. Tye, maintains that as a result of Haugen went to the SEC, Congress and state authorities, she’s entitled to whistleblower protections. He mentioned any swimsuit from Facebook could be “frivolous” and that Facebook has not been in contact.

What About Her Leaks To The Media?

Courts have not examined whether or not leaking to the media is protected beneath Dodd-Frank, however Mr. Colapinto mentioned the U.S. Secretary of Labor decided many years in the past that environmental and nuclear-safety whistleblowers’ communications with the media had been protected. He argues that the language of Sarbanes-Oxley is modeled on these earlier statutes, and Ms. Haugen ought to have the identical protections for any of her communications with reporters.

Facebook might allege that Ms. Haugen broke her nondisclosure settlement by sharing firm paperwork with the press, leaking commerce secrets and techniques or simply by making feedback Facebook considers defamatory, mentioned Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall and Banks, who has labored on whistleblower instances for many years. “Like many whistleblowers, she’s terribly courageous and places herself at private {and professional} threat in shining a lightweight on these practices,” she mentioned.

Ms. Haugen successfully used leaks to the media to show up the strain on Congress and authorities regulators. Mr. Colapinto mentioned her disclosures had a public-interest objective that would complicate imposing the NDA if Facebook selected to take action.

Could Facebook Face Blowback?

Facebook in all probability needs its veiled threats to unnerve different staff or former staff who may be tempted to talk out. “If they go after her, it won’t be because they necessarily think they have a strong case legally, but sending a message to other would-be whistleblowers that they intend to play hardball,” Ms. Banks mentioned.

But she mentioned it might be a “disaster” for Facebook to go after Ms. Haugen. Regardless of potential authorized vulnerabilities, Facebook would possibly seem like a bully if it pursued a authorized case in opposition to her.

“The last thing Facebook needs is to rouse the ire of governmental authorities and the public at large by playing the role of the big bad giant company against the courageous individual whistleblower,” mentioned Neil Getnick, whose agency, Getnick and Getnick, represents whistleblowers.


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